My rating: 4/5 Stars
Publisher: Scholastic (2009)
Length: 390 pgs
Series: The Wolves of Mercy Falls (#1)
Genre: YA Paranormal Fiction/Romance
Goodreads Synopsis: For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf—her wolf—is a chilling presence she can’t seem to live without.Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives: In winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl. In summer, a few precious months of being human… until the cold makes him shift back again.Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away. It’s her wolf. It has to be. But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human—or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever.
I first read the Wolves of Mercy Falls series around five-six years ago, when I was in high school and fresh into my love affair with all things paranormal. I had never really heard of Maggie Stiefvater and picked up the series on the recommendation of a friend who really enjoyed werewolf books. I ordered the first book in paperback to try and found myself smitten with the lyrical prose and the angsty characters. Rereading this book for about the third time (I believe I reread it a few years ago before that last book in the series, Forever, was released) I found that Stiefvater’s writing still struck a chord with me, but for very different reasons.
I used to be obsessed with Sam and Grace’s love story. Sam fit into my “type” of book boyfriends (emo, dark hair, piercing eyes, etc). and I identified a lot with Grace as a protagonist. I still think Stiefvater is a wonderful character writer, but as an older reader this time around I found myself drawn to different characters, namely Cole and Isabel. I still thoroughly enjoyed Sam’s character, but I appreciated his tragic back story and his quest to fight his demons more than him as a love interest (I find him frustratingly passive at times). I found myself often irritated at Grace, and she seems to be the most one-dimensional character this time around, with her stoic personality and lack of emotions. Isabel, however, I thoroughly loved, how she seems to be cast as a villain at first but then grows into a character with as much at stake as Sam and Grace, straddling the line between the mythical wolf world and the often times more dangerous human ones. Add Cole to the mix and the clash of personalities in this book are really beautiful.
The prose in this novel was really beautiful, and at times carried a sleepy, dream-like, romantic quality that lends itself to the slow pacing throughout the first half or so of the book. Sam in particular brings a pretty poignant narrative of what it is to be human, and what essential qualities of humanity he can never mimic or retain as a wolf. The interplay between wolf and human is so fascinating too, watching each character who shifts have a different experience with their wolf affliction, with some embracing the change as a means of escape, a means of choice, and some abhorring the feral instincts and tragic circumstances that brought them their fate. I also like how in this series the wolves aren’t really treated as typical “mythological” werewolves, but rather as real, majestic, and vulnerable wolves that happen to possess a dual nature with that of a human.
Overall: There are a lot of really beautiful moments in this book, a lot of stunning descriptions of nature from the barren, snow-silent forests to Grace’s inexplicable yet undeniable connection to the watching and waiting wolves. The pacing may be too slow for some, but this novel has layers of many different stories and many different characters and if you’re patient these interconnected stories will tease themselves out beautifully.
As part of The Wolves of Mercy Falls Read-A-Long hosted here at Girl in the Pages as well as at She Reads She Blogs and CK’s Reading Corner, each book will be featured in a review and discussion each weekend in December. This week I’ll be discussing the theme of abuse that runs through Shiver, especially through the characters who shift into wolves. (WARNING: Some spoilers will be discussed).
Throughout my re-read of Shiver, I noticed a lot of darker themes than ran throughout the book and heavier issues that could be addressed. I found a lot of the characters seemed to carry emotional (and in some cases, physical) scars that have direct implications on their ability to shift into wolves.
Shelby’s story in particular stood out to me because she was the complete opposite of most of the other pack members: rather than mourning how many years she had left until she ceased shifting, she was eager to shed the shackles of humanity, acting instinctual and animalistic even when she was wearing her human skin. Sam mentions that Shelby she was in an abusive situation so bad that she likely wouldn’t have survived as a human much longer. Shelby’s transition initially to a wolf seems to have been painful- her torso is covered in scars as if she had been mauled- but being a wolf affords her a freedom from the abuse (and most likely from the memories of that abuse, since human memories become foggy once one shifts). Shifting saved Shelby from cruelty so bad that it could only be carried out by human hands, and yet the shifting didn’t save her from her emotional scars damaging her to the point that her psychotic tendencies as a human transferred over, making her a viscous and dangerous wolf.
In contrast, Sam continues to lament his permanent switch to wolf despite the freedom it gives him from remembering his emotional (and physical human scars). Yet these scars themselves stemmed from that fact that he was a wolf, as his parents attempted to kill him by slitting his wrists, convinced his shifting was caused by demonic possession. Sam still retains the bumpy scars on his wrists and still cannot be in a bathroom with a bathtub, yet his humanity is still the most important thing to him (arguably even more so than Grace). If shifting is a blessing to Shelby, it is a curse to Sam, as it robbed him of his humanity during the winter months, but also almost permanently, as it caused his parents to try and end his life. Shifting has caused Sam to cling more tightly to his humanity, and he’s more in touch with his emotions than most of the characters. Beck is often quoted saying “Sam’s the best of us,” but I can’t help wondering if what he means is “Sam’s the most human of us,” for he still manages to let his humanity override his wolfish instincts (such as when he stops his pack from mauling Grace).
Finally, there’s Grace, the wolf that never was. Having been bitten at a young age, it’s theorized that she never transitioned because her father forgot about her in the car on a blisteringly hot summer day and her fatally high body temperature “cooked” the wolf out of her, so to speak. Grace has since inhabited an in-between space, never quite feeling comfortable with humans but never shifting into a wolf. Grace’s parents exhibit their own form of abuse in the form of neglect, and Grace often bitterly acknowledges the freedom and lack of sadness of leaving her family behind if she were to transition into a wolf.
The threads tying all three of these characters together come from their shared history of abuse suffered by cruelty contrived by humans. Shifting into a wolf allows Sam, Shelby and (potentially) Grace an escape from their human circumstances, and a family system in the pack that they severely lack or suffer from as human children (due to their neglectful/abusive parents). The series brings up the question of whether sacrificing humanity is worth avoiding human cruelty, or if the wolf experience diminishes one’s existence by dulling human memories and lowering one’s threshold for emotional experience. Is shifting into a wolf a blessing or a curse? Is it a solution or a symptom of a larger problem for the characters in the series? Do you think the narrative’s conflicts are more powerful among the human dynamics or the wolf’s presence? Do you think Sam, Grace, and Shelby share similar experiences? Let me know what you think in the comments!
If you haven’t yet, be sure to sign up to participate in our Wolves of Mercy Falls Read-A-Long by signing up here, tweeting about it using #mercyfallsreadalong, and/or by entering our giveaway for a limited edition signed copy of Sinner here.