By Maggie Stiefvater
Available now from Scholastic
Read my reviews of LAMENT and BALLAD
Read Maggie's guest blog
Sometimes (okay, all the time) I fall behind on my blog reading. While reading Renay's YA Fabulous, I came across this review of SHIVER by the Rejectionist. The Rejectionist's main issue with the novel is Grace, who she terms an Enfeebled Heroine, a la Bella Swan. To wit, "Grace has literally no interests outside of her werewolf boyfriend and COOKING[.]" I can totally get behind being tired of Enfeebled Heroines. But did I see Grace as one?
First, I love debating gender issues. My favorite show on TV right now is Dollhouse, which is fraught with gender issues. The setting is a high class brothel and the main characters are either high class prostitutes or pimps. There's an interesting blend of misogyny and feminism, the show getting some things oh-so-right and others oh-so-wrong. The stories are entertaining, but the discussions it engenders are the real treat: rich, combative, and multi-layered. What better tribute to a show that revels in perception, memory, and point of view? So when I normally don't address other's reviews, I thought The Rejectionist's was worth highlighting. It helped me think more critically about how I viewed Grace. And since some of the comments got nasty, I want ya'll to remember: both of our interpretations are correct, and neither of them are.
SHIVER opens with Grace being attacked by (were)wolves. Her behavior is inexplicable. She doesn't stuggle or panic. She simply relaxes and lets it happen. It's a creepy and off-putting opening. Maggie Stiefvater lets the reason for her behavior unfold slowly, and never shoves it in the reader's face. Sam picks up on the wrongness, but chooses not to push the issue. It's a unique treatment of the subject, as most books that contain it can't help but shove it into the foreground. To me, it's the key to Grace's character.
Grace is the victim of child abuse.
Her parents don't hit her. They don't tell her she's stupid, or a slut. She's got food, clothes, and a warm house. But she's alone most of the day. Her parents ignore her. They don't relate to her. Shortly after the attack, her dad forgets her in the car and she ends up in the hospital. Yes, parents make mistakes. Parents who pay attention to their children don't forget they're in the car.
Grace has grown up perceiving herself as unimportant. Before the attack, her only refuge was reading. She likes to do it outdoors, having developed a relationship with nature to replace the lack of human contact. After the attack, she focuses her attention on the wolves, particularly the one who saved her. The yellow eyed wolf saw her as important, something worth saving, which allows her to see herself as important. She has trouble making friends, but ends up with two close friends, one of whom shares her love of the wolves.
Then, when a peer's death puts the wolves in danger, she risks her life by going into the wood when the hunters are out in order to help them. The wolves are her family in a way her parents aren't. Throughout the novel she wants to save Sam and his pack. She sometimes works harder to save the wolves than Sam. She works to find Jack Culpepper, whose behavior puts the pack at risk, and to find the cure.
Let's count her interests other than Sam and cooking: reading, exploring nature, hanging with friends, saving the wolves. I think that's not bad for a teenager, particularly one in love. She's sometimes withdrawn and blank, but I saw that as a symptom of the abuse rather than a weakness of characterization.
Now we come to the main thing I focused on while reading SHIVER, the thing that had me thinking, "I can't believe this was published by Scholastic! Squeaky clean Scholastic!" SHIVER is sexy. Stiefvater's BALLAD and LAMENT are sensual. SHIVER is sexy. Sam is the reticent one in the relationship, the one who knows he doesn't have much more time as a human. Grace is the one who knows what she wants and goes after it. She pursues her relationship with Sam ardently. She's the agressor in the relationship, the one who pushes things forward. That's not the usual portrayal of teen girls at all. Am I entirely sure it's healthy for a young, emotionally fragile girl to become deeply involved with a boy, especially a boy who may be forced to abandon her? Actually, I'm pretty sure it's not. But it makes for an intriguing romance, particularly when Grace and Sam both approach it maturely and find healing with each other. (Sam's issues are another essay.)
I thought SHIVER was a sexy romance with an new style of werewolf and a supporting cast I looked forward to seeing more of. Grace was the understated center, working to save the wolves and become a normal girl, caught up in the newness of having her obsession obsessed with her when not even her parents thought she was worth thinking about. But I must admit, she doesn't kick anyone's ass. Then again, she's a bookworm junior in high school - not the type of person known for kicking ass and taking names.