You’re a Hideous Thing Inside

Building on yesterday’s objection to werewolf-teen-romance yawners, I have decided on a twofer review of solid YA novels that feature both romance and werewolves for those who like both. One is fairly recent and the other came out while I was in high school.

Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce, 324 pages, released 2010

Sisters Red fits neatly within the description of fairytale update, in this case the Red Riding Hood story. The novel opens with a brutal attack drawn in broad, bold strokes: a kindly grandmother is killed by a vicious werewolf, which mutilates the elder of the titular sisters even as she kills it. Pearce distills the essence of Red Riding Hood into these eight pages: innocence, lust, violation of trust, familial duty. She even manages to squeeze in woodsmen and goodies, leaving her 316 pages in which to play with her characters and their universe. 

The narrative jumps forward and we next meet the sisters, Scarlett and Rose, as young woman who have dedicated their lives to hunting down the lustful werewolves who prey on young women everywhere in this alternate reality: the Fenris. These werewolves don’t disappoint: while not governed by the moon in the traditional sense the change is nonetheless out of their control, and they are menacing and fearsome only quasi-human creatures. Pearce plays with the werewolf myth, bending it to her needs and adding complexities that suit a novel of this length. Neither do Rose and Scarlett disappoint as hunters: both possess strength and skill with their weapons, and they have refined using femininity and sexuality (and that red hood) as bait into an art.  What’s more, Scarlett and Rose are two of the most three-dimensional female characters I have seen in recent Young Adult fiction. Each has a clear voice and distinct personality, and the novel is stronger for it. Their somewhat strained relationship is at the core of the novel: Scarlett’s need to hunt and her desire to protect Rose, and Rose’s desire to grow up and decide who she wants to be.

There is also a Boy, Silas, who is equally well-rounded and manages to complement both the sisterly-relationship and werewolf-hunters aspects of the story without drowning it in Love Triangle. Action and personal drama accelerate as an unprecedented number of Fenris accumulate and the heroes move to the city to both do more damage and prevent a new Fenris from being created.

It is not a perfect novel, at times Rose and Scarlett’s inner turmoil threaten to swamp the narrative, but the author generally manages to right things and keep the story moving. Still the writing is rich and descriptions give the impression of heightened, even animalistic, senses. Sisters Red is not for everyone, but for fans of fairytales, werewolves, and the YA genre (or maybe for those with a strained sisterly relationship) it’s a filling basket of goodies.

Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause, 288 pages, published 1999

Let me preface this review by saying two things: one, the movie is terrible. Do not watch it under any circumstances. Two: I read this almost a decade ago and I am working from memory, so if the review isn’t the most detailed I apologize.

My overall recollection of this werewolf novel is sweatiness. Extremely hormonal parents and teens (some are literally in heat), a sixteen-year-old heroine with distinctly animal desires warring her longing to fit in with plain old humans. The werewolves are in fact an entirely separate race, the loup-garou (French for werewolf), and live in secrecy alongside humans. Pack politics dictate human interaction amongst the wolf-people, and our heroine accidentally wins herself the Alpha male while trying to save her mother from a dogfight early in the novel.

The problem is, she doesn’t want the fully grown motorcycle-riding Alpha Gabriel. Instead she sets her sights on a tender “meat-boy” her own age, a boy at school who writes a story that convinces her he might be able to both understand and appreciate what she really is. The story progresses from there, Vivian building a relationship with meat-boy Aidan and a social life with his equally human friends, Gabriel’s relentless pursuit of Vivian as his new mate, and the pack’s struggle to remain hidden amongst the humans of their Maryland suburb. Paralleling this struggle for concealment, Vivian’s desire to share her shifting ability with Aiden grows ever-stronger, a yearning Gabriel understands all too well.

This novel works so well because the themes of the novel, lust and longing, infuse every word of the prose. Imagery is sensual, visceral like the loups-garous themselves. Lycanthropy provides a perfect vehicle for the coming-of-age turmoil at the heart of every YA novel. Vivian loves who she is, a total bad-ass, and she longs to find a way to both be herself and be loved for it.

This book is seriously Sexy, and it has the action to satisfy readers of any gender (and I would argue, any age). Read it.

And now, just to prove that a werewolf story doesn’t have to be wordy to be good I give you TV on the Radio’s “Wolf Like Me”


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