Shiver - 2015 Reading Challenge

Remember when vampires and werewolves were the hot tickets in the reading world? Paranormal romance earned its own section in most bookstores around 2009, when Twilight was exploding into the universe and suddenly people all across the world wanted to read about mystical species getting it on with humans. If someone had told Stephenie Meyer when she was a kid that one day she'd write a book about a girl falling in love with a 100-year-old cold-skinned murderer with cannibalistic tendencies whose strongest instinct was to eat her, I'm sure she would have lol'd.

But she did. And it worked. And fortunately, this review is not about it.

This review is about Shiverby Maggie Stiefvater, which came out right in the sweet spot of paranormal romance's heyday, and is better than Twilight in just about every quantifiable way.

A book with nonhuman characters

Grace is attacked by wolves in the northern woods of Minnesota when she was a child, but they spare her life. Despite almost being killed by the animals, she finds herself drawn to them in ways that make no sense, and to one in particular -- the yellow-eyed wolf she knows is responsible for saving her life.

During her last year of high school,  the wolves maul and kill a boy from her school, but his body disappears from the morgue. Men from the town decide to cull the population of beasts, and in the process, Grace's favorite wolf gets shot and turns up on her deck -- as a human. Turns out they aren't real wolves at all.

Look, I know this isn't everyone's bag. Most people are perfectly content to read books where all the characters are human beings and they always stay human beings even when they get shot or really cold (which, incidentally, is what makes the werewolves change every year in winter. Sucks to live in Minnesota when that's the case.)

He was as fragile as a butterfly in autumn, waiting to be destroyed by the first frost.

However, Stiefvater does some interesting things here that I really liked. First off, she starts with a strong character. Grace is practical, determined, logical, and actually has a personality. I don't relate to her a lot (except for our mutual love of coffee), but that's okay, because I believe her. I like her. She's good people. And even though she falls head over sneakers in love with a werewolf, she doesn't become crippled by her feelings with him so much that she forgets to be a real person. In fact, Grace is the girl who has to think fast, stay strong, and save the guy -- not the other way around.

Those are rare traits in any chick from paranormal romance (in the ones I've read, anyway).

Sam (the wolf-man) is a bit of a toss-up for me, though. He's artistic and poetic and loves to whisper Rilke in Grace's ear (to her credit, she's like: poetry -- huh?), which for most 18-year-old guys in Midwestern USA is probably a bit of a stretch. However, he's also very damaged beyond just the fact that he turns into a wolf every winter, and that adds a level of intrigue for his character, so I stuck with him and found myself wanting them together.

They're complete opposites in many ways, and sometimes that is a really good thing.

Shiver is easy to read. You can get through it in a day (I read the first two-thirds in the first 24 hours). It's fast-paced, interesting, and doesn't take itself too seriously with the writing. There are some very pretty turns of phrase, but Stiefvater never tries to get into the realm of literary description, which I think she probably could if she wanted to. She also writes funny, which I love because it's so hard to do.

“What do you eat?" "Baby bunnies." She narrowed her eyes, so I grinned and said, "Adult bunnies, too. I'm an equal-opportunity bunny-eater.”

I like this challenge because it's forcing me to pick up books I normally wouldn't, which always leads to surprises. I end up liking things I thought I would hate, and hating things I wanted to like. That's the beauty of reading outside your normal genres. If you're interested in paranormal romance but don't want to pick up something super cheesy and terribly written, I would definitely recommend Shiver for the purpose.

Feature image: Flickr / Emil_95 / 2014

Reviews coming up: I'll soon be posting my reviews of two new books, graciously sent to me by Allen & Unwin here in Australia.

  • Prick with a Fork by Larissa Dubecki

  • The Seed Collectors by Scarlett Thomas

What are you reading?