Vampires and werewolves and pixies, oh my: Maggie Stiefvater’s “Shiver”

With apologies to Stiefvater’s fans (and there are a lot of them): I hated this book and I’ll try to explain why. I’d like to address one obvious problem before I even start though: I’m not in the age group for which the book was written. It’s possible that I prefer the books I read when I was in my teens because I think of them through the rose tinted glasses of fond nostalgia. It’s also possible (though weakly so) that I’m inclined to like books written when I was in the intended age group, such as Cormier’s I am the cheese, because it’s a writing style I’ve grown up with…but I doubt it.

For those of us who haven’t been paying much attention to recent YA literature, the plot is1: our teen protagonist was, as a child, attacked by wolves. This has left her with heightened senses and an obsession with the local wolf pack, presumably the same ones who attacked her…and one of the wolves seems obsessed with her. As the book begins, one of the other high school students is attacked by the same pack and ostensibly dies. Nope (spoiler alert): these are werewolves and the classmate is himself now a werewolf too. The wolf who keeps hanging around her house is a Cute Boy Wolf who, Edward Cullen-like, turns out to be Her One True Love That Was Fated To Be despite the obvious objections raised by the other members of the werewolf pack2, not to mention her friends.

Now in fairness to all the fans, I’m going to start with the compliments. Kudos to Stiefvater for coming up with an alternate explanation for what triggers the transition between human and wolf: her werewolves change according to the temperature–cold triggers the change to wolf, which is why everybody thinks that it’s the cycle of the moon that does it. Nope, it’s the colder temperatures at night with warmer days that cause them to “rapid cycle” back and forth; when the temperatures are above a certain point, they stay human, but once the temperatures drop below that, they switch to wolves. Now for my criticisms.

Problem #1: I think Stiefvater uses words inaccurately. On page 129, the characters refer several times to a werewolf as “slathering”. To quote A Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Having checked my giant American Heritage dictionary, the definition of “Slather” is “1. to use or give great amounts of, lavish: slathered gifts and attention on their only child 2a. to spread thickly: slather onions on the steak b. to cover with something spread thickly: bagels slathered with cream cheese. The definition of “slaver” is (verb) 1. To slobber; drool w. To behave in an obsequious manner; fawn (noun) 1. Saliva drooling from the mouth 2. Senseless and effusive talk; drivel. Maybe Stiefvater did mean the former and not the latter…but frankly werewolves spread thickly with something is not precisely a terrifying image. I think she means the latter. Certainly that’s how I’d describe all the B movie werewolves I’ve ever seen.

Problem #2: Stiefvater doesn’t describe things in a way that gives me a particularly good mental picture of the scene. On page 41, she says “the pinned wolf whistled pitifully through his nostrils”. Does she mean the wolf whined piteously? breathed so hard as a result of stress and exertion that his inhalations/exhalations were audible?

Problem #3: She leaves plot holes. Really obvious ones. On page 174, Sam says “Later, I heard Ulrik and Beck; they didn’t realize there weren’t many places [in the house] that a werewolf couldn’t hear.” Er…why wouldn’t they realize this? The two werewolves in question are older than Sam, and have been living in this house for longer than he has. How would they NOT know the acoustics of the building by now?

Problem #4: She doesn’t include basic scientific information3. In the denouement of the book, we discover that a very high prolonged body temperature will cure lycanthropy; this explains why Grace didn’t become one herself as, shortly after she was attacked, her father left her in an enclosed car in the sun and she got heatstroke. Conveniently, there’s a meningitis epidemic going around the town, and even more conveniently, the new werewolf’s mother works at the local health clinic…and the sister of same knows how to draw blood. She draws three vials from one of the patients and they inject the three Good Werewolves. Now, I don’t know if this would occur to all the readers but someone should have mentioned it to the author: what about blood typing? Rather Icky Things have been known to happen to people who get the wrong type. This could be solved by a throwaway line such as “That’s OK: the guy I got it from is type O negative.” or “C’mon, guys, we’re trying to cure them of being **** werewolves and you’re worried about blood typing? the meningitis alone will probably kill them.”

There are always flash in the pan authors and fad topics; I’d hazard a guess that Stiefvater, like Meyers, is another of those authors, and werewolves, vampires and the like are the fad topics of the moment. Certainly there are always books of dubious literary quality which prove to be hysterically popular among the teen and tween set for a brief time; how many people ask for the Animorphs books or the Sweet Valley High series these days? Ask me again in thirty years, though. For all I know, Stiefvater could be regarded as this generation’s Robert Cormier…but I doubt it. I’m mean enough to use meaning two for the noun “slaver” to describe this book. Purple doesn’t even begin to describe the prose here.

As for what to read next, the obvious suggestion is Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. Just please don’t ask me to read it for fun. For the libraries out there considering buying this, I’d say “Get it in paperback, especially if you need multiple copies.” I’m all for doing whatever it takes to get kids to read and to come to the library for their OMG FIX, but I wouldn’t want to waste scarce money on something that might not remain so popular for the length of the lifetime of a hardcover book.

1with my apologies to fans in advance, I may not be able to describe it in a properly adulating way….don’t say I didn’t warn you
2again with the overused tropes here: this one being “true love will overcome all obstacles, even those raised by very sensible people who’ve seen this happen before”
3writing fantasy about nonexistent (I hope!) creatures is no excuse for overlooking this sort of thing


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