Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater, is going to remind you of Twilight. The comparisons between the two are inescapable: the whole star-crossed, girl-meets-supernatural-boy thing is just too similar. But where Twilight shows a certain restraint, Shiver's characters don't remain as chaste.

Grace was attacked by wolves as a little girl -- pulled from her tire swing and dragged into the woods, she should have died. Somehow she didn't, and now she has an obsessive interest in one particular wolf with yellow eyes.

After a classmate is killed by wolves, hunters enter the woods to exterminate the pack. Grace, terrified that something might happen to "her" wolf, manages to stop the hunt, but not before one of the wolves is shot. Arriving home, she discovers a boy on her deck, covered in blood and obviously suffering from a gunshot wound. He has yellow eyes. Somehow she knows that he is her wolf.

It is love at first sight, or at least at first human sight since all their prior contact has been inter-species. Sam moves in with Grace (her parents aren't very parental: they spend all their time acting like they don't have a child and don't notice that Sam is staying in their home, despite the fact that he lives there for more than a month).

Cold, it turns out, is what changes the werewolves into wolves. The colder the weather, the closer they get to changing until at last they change for the winter and don't become human again until spring. And eventually, they don't change back at all, living out the rest of their lives as wolves. It becomes critical for Sam to stay warm: he is close to changing and is certain that this will be his last year -- after he changes this time, he will not be human again.

The central mystery of the book is whether there's a cure for this ailment. Grace was bitten during her attack as a child, yet has never changed. She appears to have increased sensory awareness -- her wolf sense -- but she stays Grace. How is this possible? What implications are there for Sam?

Some of the writing is lyrical. It draws heavily on poetry -- Sam is a songwriter and the loss of his self-awareness when he becomes a wolf is devastating to him. He is forced by his nature as a werewolf to live in the moment. Grace, on the other hand, is hyper-responsible, a planner, and her practicality in the face of her parents' immaturity is another theme that's well handled. Their different approaches to this problem of Sam's wolfishness are part of what makes the book work.

Where Twilight spends three full books on the "I want you-But we mustn't!" tug of war, Shiver only draws out the suspense for about 2/3rds of the novel before Sam and Grace sleep together. I have a problem with that, given that this is targeted at 13-18 year olds. Granted, they are supposed to be soul-mates (wolves, you may remember, mate for life), and it's not explicit, but still, Grace is only 16 or 17. Shiver's language is also rougher; more OMGs, a "bitch" or two, and one reference to "ass-kicking boots." It's relatively tame compared to the way actual high school students talk, and not at all gratuitous, but it's there.

The ending really got me, mainly because it wasn't well explained. I found myself closing the book and thinking, "How did that happen?" I think I have made peace with it in my head, but to say that it's clear would be grossly misleading. Perhaps this is going to be explained in the sequel Linger, due out this summer (2010).

Shiver has some nice bits -- the poetry, Sam's agony as he anticipates losing himself and Grace, perhaps forever, the way weather intrudes in and shapes the story. But I wouldn't recommend it for kids under 16, because of the sexual relationship.

And seriously consider reading this one under a blanket, because the constant references to the cold start to get to you after a while.

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