When Grace was a little girl, she was bitten by wolves. They pulled her off the tire swing in her backyard and dragged her into the woods. Grace remembers only one of the wolves. The one with mesmerizing yellow eyes. The wolf who stopped the attack.
For six years after the attack Grace sees the yellow-eyed wolf in the woods behind her house. She watches him, he watches her, and they fall in love.
Grace's wolf is only a wolf in the cold of winter. Under the summer sun, he is Sam and he is very human.
Shiver (Scholastic Press, 2009) is a paranormal romance for young adult readers by Maggie Stiefvater. It is very romantic in the more traditional sense of the word: It focuses on and moves readers to focus on nature, the imagination, and emotions. This is wonderful. The woods and the weather have prominent roles in the story. (In fact, each chapter begins with the temperature for that day or time of day.) Stiefvater succeeds in building an atmosphere of mystery and suspense around Grace, Sam, other wolves, their friends, and their small town of Mercy Falls, Minnesota. Readers will keep turning the pages of Shiver because there are always intriguing questions raised about the characters. Many questions are answered by the end of the novel. A couple unanswered questions are moving me to read Linger, the sequel to Shiver.
But a couple other unanswered questions annoyed me.
"Of course," she said, and her voice was frustrated. "Magic would be intangible. Science has cures. Haven't you ever wondered how it all started?"
I didn't open my eyes. "One day a wolf bit a man and the man caught it. Magic or science, it's all the same. The only thing magical about it is that we can't explain it."
The passage above is from a conversation between Sam and Grace (pg. 244-245 in the hardcover edition of Shiver). As seen in the passage above, no back story is provided to explain the origin of the wolves or to explain their condition. Throughout the novel, Sam is dismissive of his wolfish background. This is consistent with his ambivalent feelings toward being a wolf. However, the absence of a back story made suspending my disbelief about the wolves a little difficult.
Perhaps these questions will be answered in Linger? Regardless, Shiver should be able to stand on its own.
Stiefvater also succeeds in expressing and evoking a swirl of emotions for readers: love, desire, obsession, confusion, sadness, and so much more. Sam's struggle with his identity - Is he man or is he wolf? How can he possibly be both? - is convincing and moving. (This is greatly helped by the novel alternating between Sam and Grace's points of view.) And Stiefvater brings readers to really feel and explore this question: How can a girl and a wolf boy truly be together? The yearning, oh the yearning, Sam and Grace feel for each other is palpable.
As a reader, I was less than satisfied with the paranormal aspect of this novel, but thoroughly satisfied with its love story. As impossible as this love story seems, it will speak to the emotions of teen readers and to the teen inside all of us.
[I bought my own copy of Shiver.]