Alas, Shivers No Timbers

3 Jan

I have been attempting to read Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver since a friend brought it to my attention last July. In true post-Twilight style, it follows the story of normal duck (or maybe not) Grace, living in rural Minnesota, and a wolf that has been shadowing her since she was attacked by his pack as a girl. Turns out, her wolf is actually a werewolf by the name of Sam, struggling to fight his final and ultimate change back to wolf form at cusp of winter.

Grace has always thought of the yellow-eyed wolf as “hers.” Ever since he rescued her from being attacked by his own pack many years ago, he has watched her from the woods every winter. But this year, it’s different, this year she finds a wounded boy with the same yellow eyes lying on her porch. Yep, you guessed it. Werewolf. Sorta. These wolves change with the season, or rather the temperature. As the mercury drops, they change into wolves, and when it rises in summer, they regain their human forms — but only for a finite space of years, and Sam is at the end. When he shifts into a wolf this year, it will be for good.

Poor Grace, she’s been in love with a wolf for sixteen years, only to find out she’s not crazy because the wolf is actually a cute human guy, only to find out that when winter shows up, she’s back to being in love with a wolf again. For such a bizarre situation, she takes it remarkably well and without question (too well, in my opinion), and her determination is impressive. She functions as a nexus of stability and normalcy in a maelstrom that also involves her volatile and recently werewolfed classmate Jack, his suspicious sister, Sam’s werewolf pack, and Grace’s best friend and also newly werewolfed friend, Olivia.

However, this book did not live up to my expectations. While Grace is certainly stronger and more interesting than Bella Swan, Stiefvater is not the writer that Stephanie Meyer is, alas. For 98% of the book, nothing really happens. We watch Sam and Grace bond and pine over each other, while wandering around in the vague vicinity of doing something. There’s even a bit in a clearing reminiscent of the meadow scene from Twilight, as well as a bookstore that reprises the restaurant in Port Angeles scene — but nothing happens in either.

Furthermore, Stiefvater’s writing is clunky, and fits awkwardly in her characters’ mouths. Observe: “wondering, with the constant irritation of a scratchy sweater” or “we walked with a giant’s strides.” But even worse, she makes Sam into a songwriter, and features snatches of his lyrics, which don’t help the poor guy out. The lyrics are awkwardly integrated and jarring, plus utterly pretentious. For example: “Sloughing my skin / escaping its grip / stripped of my wit / it hurts to be me” which is terribly emo and also just plain terrible, but is outclassed by “Close to the sun is closer to me / I feel my skin clinging so tightly” — which doesn’t even have a consistent meter.

On the upside, however, Sam also likes poetry a lot, in a really realistic and accessible way — watching him try to explain it to the down-to-earth Grace is particularly amusing. Stiefvater includes several poems and excerpts that the pair reads, and she has flawless taste in poetry. Mostly Rainer Maria Rilke, from his fabulous book, Poems. There’s a particular moment in which Grace reads a a beautiful and sad poem after Sam has left, and simply remarks, “I was beginning to understand poetry.”

Alas, poor Grace still rates a JG on the PSA. So read this if you’re looking for an easy distraction that doesn’t require your brain, but don’t get your hopes up for the next Great American Novel. It’s is the dog lover’s Twilight, but without the love triangle and action, I don’t think it will ever have the pull. Reviews of the second book, Linger, are mediocre, and the final book, Forever, pubs in July.

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2 Responses to “Alas, Shivers No Timbers”

  1. Rebecca Wells January 3, 2011 at 11:02 am #

    I agree. Period.

    • pickychick books January 8, 2011 at 3:16 am #

      That’s because you have excellent taste. To that note, book club? Also to that note, FIRE!!!! Was wonderful. 🙂

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