13 to Life

13 to Life

There is a vicious empowerment struggle going on in the "horror" genre. Domination of the YA readership by the "vampire" subgenre is being seriously challenged by the upstart competitor, werewolf fiction!

It started innocently enough with werewolves as minor characters. Now, they are hunting on their own. To the main male teen in this novel it makes sense, " ' Life's about transformation, right? We grow, we change, hopefully we evolve into better people...Who represents transformation better than werewolves?' " Right, and who better represents changing and developing teenagers than werewolves? It's surprising teens didn't adopt "weres" years ago. Perhaps, the corny, anti-teen, 1957 movie, I Was A Teenage Werewolf, with Michael Landon spoiled the specie's appeal for a couple of YA generations. Obviously, werewolves and shape shifters are more compatible to young readers than vampires.

Eleventh grader Jesse Gilmansen is emotionally fragile since her mother died in a car accident. More change is the last thing she needs. Nevertheless, she gets assigned orienting a new Russian boy, Pietr, around small town Junction High. He's hot but there is something peculiar about him--"...I realized there was something indefinable…about him." His family isn't exactly the Waltons either. Animals behave in an unusual way around him. Locally, there have been reports of wolves. Although Jesse's latest crush is Derek, the school's star jock, the longer she is around Pietr, the more she is attracted to him. But ,could it be a fatal attraction? Will Pietr transform her?

Yes, what the reader suspects, Jesse eventually discovers. Pietr and his family are a pack of werewolves from the old country. Besides this main story, there is a somewhat awkward and unconvincing subplot involving the Russian mafia. Also, a couple of underdeveloped story lines remain unresolved from father issues to Jesse's friend, Sarah. Initially, legitimate criticisms, but then it dawned on me that in today's YA publishing every debut book is potentially just the first in a series (sequel, Secrets and Shadows, comes out in early 2011). Consequently, I'll give the author the benefit of the doubt that the failure to develop and tie up loose ends was a conscious literary decision.

Because the author is a former teacher, the adolescent dialog, preoccupations with looks and sexuality (mostly talk and little action), and typical "girl" behavior ring convincing and authentic. YA readers recognize truth in reading. From the first chapter, they will enthusiastically want to enroll in the classes, identify with the principal's office and gym, and participate in Junction High school spirit. The school bus everybody rides is number 13. If a librarian, I'd buy multiple copies.

Of course, literary werewolves snapping at the heels of vampire fiction is not exclusive to the YA market. Don't forget "adult" titles that easily crossover. Kelley Armstrong's books (Bitten) and Martin Millar's witty and brilliant Lonely Werewolf Girl and sequel, Curse of the Wolf Girl, do circulate in my high school library. What's next? I'm waiting for "banshee" fiction to take hold! 308 pages. Recommended by Robert L. Hicks, Librarian.

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