Sometimes Living in the Big Apple Really Bites!
Eighteen-year-old rock star Sam Lee isn’t like other girls. She’s the super-talented bass player and songwriter for an all-girl indie band and an incurable loner. Then one night after a concert in Central Park, she’s attacked by a wild dog. Suddenly, this long-time vegetarian is craving meat–the bloodier, the better. Sam finds herself with an unbelievable secret and no one she trusts to share it. And so begin the endless lies to cover up the hairy truth…
When a new girl gang appears in the city–with claws and paws–Sam suspects there’s a connection to her own inner beast. Trapped in a tug-of-war between her animal and human selves, forced to choose between the guy who sparked her carnal appetite and the one who makes her feel like a normal teenage girl, Sam has to unravel the mysteries of the werewolf world before her bandmates, her mother, and the media catch up to her.
Dear Ms Pohl-Weary,
Excuse the letter format, but we had the pleasure of meeting at a Penguin event recently, so I feel like this review is a little more personal than most. I was kindly given a copy of your YA novel to read in advance of our meeting, so this may be a little coloured by that encounter – I was able to ask you some questions that I had about the story and it clarified my feelings.
First and foremost, let me say what a relief it was to read a book with a super-strong and kick-ass female protagonist like Sam! Not only did your book meet the Bechdel Test but it surpassed it. Sam is part of an all-girl rock band that has their issues, but is able to focus their attention on matters other than boys and fashion. Their relationship is revealed as the story progresses, and it’s a welcome change to see strong females in a normal personal and professional situation. Sam may be uncomfortable with her fame, but she’s fully confident about her talent and how hard she’s worked to earn her place. She’s uncomfortable with her notoriety, but deeply loves music and how it gives her a freedom she finds difficult to explore in her personal life. I loved her as a character and wish that other writers would follow your lead in creating such dynamic female figures.
I also liked the premise of your book, and I enjoyed that Sam didn’t go into the world of werewolves with ease. In many similar books of the genre, newly created werewolves are initially, “Oh, no, my life is over” for about twenty minutes, and then they are suddenly superheroes of their own destiny. Sam isn’t like that – she fights her transformation, and the knowledge of what she is becoming. She struggles to hold onto her own identity, and she fights her inclusion into the pack both mentally and physically. It made sense, since she was a unique individual before she was bitten, for her to want to stay true to who she knew herself to be. I did feel that she exhibited classic 18-year-old stubbornness by not accepting help sooner than she did.
Your pacing of the story was excellent, and I appreciated that the anxiety felt by Sam was reflected in her rash actions and the ramping up of the tension. I was engaged in the story throughout, and even though I sometimes wanted to smack Sam up the back of the head, I did feel that her actions and reactions were completely in line with the slightly neurotic Sam we were growing to know. I could feel her confusion and her anxiety, especially during the media interviews, and I was really happy when she stood up to her interviewer (also – nice little reminder there that the media has no place in the bedrooms of celebrities!). C’mon …. you want to tell me there isn’t a small part of us that would love to see a celebrity handle such a situation with such honesty and self-awareness?
“You know, it’ really not okay,” I said. “If I was a girl with less confidence, or with a mom who isn’t amazing like mine, that might have destroyed me. Enjoy your ratings, but you are a horrible person.”
I would have liked to have learned more about the other girls that Owen had affected, and I wish that their part in the story had been explained a little sooner. Sam’s realization that she was not the first to be bitten, but the first to come through it unscathed might have changed her viewpoint a little earlier and led her to form a bond with the others that echoed that of her bandmates (even considering the surprise she discovers later – no spoilers!). Marlon was similarly confusing for me – I recognize that he’s supposed to be Sam’s equal, but I felt that there was more mystery and potential in the relationship with Daniel and his family. There’s still so much mystery there that needs to be explored, and I found myself racing through Marlon’s wacky family (seriously, they are bent) in order to figure out more about Daniel. Despite the chemistry that you’re building between Sam and Marlon, I’m still seeing him more as a brother figure. As for Harris – poor, poor Harris – well, he never really stands a chance in this book. He’s sweet and lovely and totally not for Sam. Here’s hoping he ends up happy with someone else from the books.
Now onto my concern – and this is a spoiler, so I’m going to put it under a spoiler tag. Highlight at your own risk if you haven’t read the book.
begin highlight >My main concern with the book lay with Owen and how he had created “mutant” versions of other girls as werewolves in order to attempt to find his mate. This read a little too close to assault for my liking and was uncomfortable, not just for the assault they encountered, but for their ongoing shame and banishment to the fringe afterwards. When I had the chance to meet with you, I mentioned this concern and we discussed how Owen’s attacks were an assault on the girls, but that their ‘banishment’ was more about them coming to terms with how they had changed and accepting that before finding their place again in a different society. By having them participate in the final battle with Owen, you were giving them back some of the power that had been taken from them, and they were more confident as a result of their actions. Additionally, connecting them to Sam and later to Marlon’s family gives them a sense of community that will help them to heal and to explore their new reality. It still made me uneasy to read, but I do think that you did a great job of bringing the attacked girls closer to acceptance and moving on. < end highlight
Overall, however, I was happy with this book and with Sam in particular. I think you have created some exceptionally interesting female characters in this book. There is so much more of Sam’s story – and the stories of her bandmates and her “pack sisters” – that could be told and I hope that there are more books to follow. It was a pleasure to meet you in person, and to find a kindred Bikini Kill fan!!
Thanks for a fun read,
Not Your Ordinary Wolf Girl is available through Razorbill Canada. It was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review, and may be purchased at Indigo, Kobo and through your friendly independent bookseller. ISBN:9781477817308, 304 pages.