"Teens & Wolves: A Post in Two Voices"
The Program: At 57th Street Books, I have a Kid and Teen Critic review program, where I exchange ARCs and galleys for reviews. ARCs are hand-selected to match the individual reader based on the participant's age, reading level, history and genre preferences. After reviews are submitted, I use them to help determine stock, displays, and promotions; to gauge interest in genres, authors and various formats; and to communicate with publishers on early feedback. And the review program helps other shoppers make better decisions, especially when buying books as gifts, by posting the reviews in store, online, and in newsletters.
The Reviewer: Jennifer Glick has been a part of the Teen Critic program for over two years. I have relied heavily on her opinion in my decision-making and find her reviews concise, reliable, helpful and enjoyable. She has helped me discover books I might not have read, and also helped me weed out others I probably shouldn't devote time towards.
The Idea: While my colleagues may call me a spring chicken, I am no longer a teen. Therefore, the reviews from the teens in our program are essential to balance adult opinions with those of the intended audience. For this post, I've paired up with Jen to get a more balanced perspective on three young adult novels about werewolves. Yes, teen werewolves.
The Note: These reviews contain spoilers. Don't say we didn't warn you!
by Justine Larbalestier
Bloomsbury | 9781599903057 | 16.99 | Sept 2009
One of my favorite gals in publicity, Deb Shapiro, from Bloomsbury, got me to read this with her teaser campaign that included a chapter sampler, vague, yet enthusiastic little notes of praise, and of course, the early galley. I jumped in with two feet ready to love what she'd sent. But here's why I didn't.
Micah, the main character and narrator of the book, is a compulsive liar. I found reading from this perspective endlessly frustrating. As a reader, I was not able to distinguish between actual people, places, things and events and Micah's revisionist accounts. While this was a unique read, it's not something I felt I would recommend or read again. Mostly because, even though we don't really know Micah's story, the one she tells is that of urban werewolves and their bloody, romantic escapades.
While I suspected teens would be interested in the genre, I had no idea how they would take to the “liar's tale” voice. Luckily, one of my savvy Teen Critics turned in a review to help balance my own opinion. Here's her perspective:
When I first picked up Liar it looked like one of the quickly and shoddily written werewolf novels that the recent Twilight obsession has unleashed, but Liar turned out to be a fantastic surprise.
I absolutely, one-hundred-percent, loved Liar. The best part about the book is that it follows the life of Micah, a teenage pathological liar who is constantly rewriting her own story. Thus the reader is never sure which chapters are true, and which convey aspects of a life that Micah wishes was her own. Halfway through the novel Micah reveals that she is a werewolf, who shifts once a month unless she regularly takes her medication.
This novel is my favorite of the three wolf stories because instead of adding a wolf to an ordinary story, Ms. Larbalestier takes a great story about a liar, and then adds another great story about a werewolf.
Wow! It''s a good thing I'm not the buyer at a reputable bookstore, huh? Oh, right. I am. Well then, it's a good thing I have teens who review books for me, huh?
by Maggie Stiefvatar
Scholastic | 9780545123273 | $8.99 | June 2010
My sales rep and other booksellers really talked this one up early on as “the next Twilight, but with werewolves”. So I knew it would get some attention and thought I'd give it a read after my recent lack of enthusiasm for Larbalestier's Liar. No dice. While I did enjoy this story a little more, it still fell flat and felt too much like werewolf romance. Which is good in a way, because that is exactly what it is. Why are these girls dying to be vampires or wolves? What's wrong with them? Why are so many people loving this story and desperate for it's sequel, Linger, due out in July 2010? For answers to these questions, I turn to my Teen Critics.
Jen hadn't read this one just after Liar, like I did. I asked her to read this as the idea for this post formulated inside my cynical little head. Here's what she said:
Shiver is a tale of a doomed romance, as Grace falls in love with a werewolf named Sam who has only a few more months to stay human. Although there are some mystery elements to the novel, the primary focus rests upon whether Sam and Grace are able to keep Sam human.
The werewolf element made this story unique; instead of being simply a story about two teenagers in love they are a human girl and a wolf boy who are fighting against time and nature to stay together.
Jen thought this one was good, but not great. While she doesn't have anything negative to say, she certainly wasn't raving about it like she did with Liar. Therefore, I'd say we came out thinking similarly on this one. A sort of meeting in the middle.
Claire de Lune
by Christine Johnson
Simon Pulse | 9780670011421 | $16.99 | May 2010
After reading two YA werewolf books, I certainly didn't expect to find myself reading a third this summer. And then, one day, I got a call from a debut author trying to get her foot in the not-so proverbial door of a brick and mortar bookstore. After a brief discussion on the possibility of hosting her for a book signing, I, with dread, agreed to read the book and then make a decision on whether we could make this work. I grabbed the galley, took it home, and started reading.
Much to my surprise and pleasure, I truly enjoyed this one. And before I go on, here's what Jen had to say:
Claire de Lune is the most “traditional” werewolf novel out of the three, in the sense that Claire, the main character, is the werewolf, and she is trying to figure out how to be human and a wolf at the same time. Claire’s life is further complicated when a rogue wolf begins to terrorize her community, inciting a local scientist to hunt the wolves so that he can attempt to cure them. The novel gets interesting when Claire falls for the scientist’s son, but is unable to tell him about her true identity.
The mystery of the lone wolf makes you want to keep reading, and the hope for an impossible love keeps the reader entertained during slower scenes. This book is well crafted and a delight to read – female teen readers who enjoy books about real girls with a splash of fantasy will love this book.
I was happy to see Jen give nods to three things I couldn't agree with more. They are:
- Mystery as intrigue
- Pleasurable reading
Our opinions diverge when Jen calls this one traditional. I can certainly see how you'd find this one more traditional when comparing this book to the two above, but I found this treatment of werewolves more feminist and enjoyable. Secondly, this one was definitely my favorite on the list, while Jen remained swept away by Liar.
Liar — Read this one if you're looking for a unique voice that will surprise and challenge you.
Shiver — Read this one if you're looking for a star-crossed romance to satisfy your soul.
Claire de Lune — Read this one if you're looking for a well-crafted, mysterious teen novel for the simple pleasure of reading a good story.
Moreover: I can't wait until Twilight is no longer the starting off point for discussing YA novels such as these three books. It reminds me of the days when Harry Potter was the reference point for all middle-grade fantasy. That moment seems to have passed. This, too, shall pass.
In the meantime, I will keep encouraging teens to give all of us in the book world feedback. I will gather their opinions, introduce them to new materials, and filter all of that through to you. When you visit 57th Street Books, look for the kid and teen reviews and only after that should you ask me what I think about a particular book or genre.
– Angela Sherrill
57th Street Books
[Editor's Note: As Angela alludes in her post, Claire de Lune author Christine Johnson will be appearing at 57th Street Books in July. For more information, head on over to the Kids' Books page at the 57th Street Books site.]