Today's Book Review

Maggie Stiefvater
Shiver
400pp. Scholastic Press.
9780545123266

Maggie Stiefvater's third book debuted at no. 9 on the NYT Bestseller list and is already generating speculation re: its movie franchise, sequels, and product spinoffs. We are always optimistic when approaching the Next Big Thing of YA; after all, Phillip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy did spectacularly well and is as complex, beautifully written, subversive, and brilliant a triad as any lover of literature could hope for (although DEAR GOD do not subject yourself to the UNFORGIVABLE film version of The Golden Compass , which was so bad we actually walked out in the first half-hour, SHRIEKING (really; just ask the people sitting in front of us, who changed seats to get away from us before we departed the theater in a frenzy of ire)).

Alas, we were sorely disappointed. In a nutshell: Shiver is the story of a young lady who is attacked by (were)wolves as a toddler and is rescued by a young (were)wolf pack member who is Mysteriously Drawn To Her and subsequently lurks about her premises for a few years until! lo and behold! she Hits Puberty and the Impassioned Forbidden Werewolf Romance begins. Under ordinary circumstances, we wouldn't bother to mention this book; there are so many magnificent books out there that it seems a far better use of our energies to expound upon their virtues rather than tromp down the path of intellectual disdain and public evisceration of hardworking authors, etc. etc. But our dislike of Shiver served only to remind us of a certain displeasure we have been feeling lately with young adult fiction in general and YA aimed at teenage girls in particular; namely, the Enfeebled Heroine.

There is a particularly misogynist school of romance critique which we are not interested in espousing; no, Maggie Stiefvater is not a great prose stylist, but neither is Tom Clancy, and we have yet to read a book review elaborating on what silly and addlepated creatures men are for their biological yearnings toward homoerotic narratives of exploding submarines and menacing Russians. We certainly do not think an affinity for romance is some tragic weakness of femininity, nor do we have any interest in writing off an entire (and hugely significant) segment of the reading population.

What we are heartily sick of, however, are feeble and inept teenage-girl main characters, whose lives come into focus only through the addition of some melodramatic attraction to a charismatic male figure who seems to carry all the personality in the relationship. Stiefvater's heroine Grace is even more insipid and insulting than Stephenie Meyer's Bella, who at least manages to commence Twilight with a predilection for the Brontes and an occasional demonstration of feistiness, even if she almost immediately devolves into a sobbing mess who hangs about in the more sordid corners of Forks awaiting rescue and who states repeatedly that she cannot live without vampire-beau Edward after spending all of a biology period with him (Grace thinks, I need this to live , the very first time her werewolf paramour kisses her). Yes, adolescence is a volatile time, and yes, adolescents (of ALL genders, thank you) develop obsessive and incredibly intense romantic attachments to all kinds of people who do not have their best interests at heart, and no, we don't have a problem with books willing to tackle those kinds of relationships head-on. But love that is self-abnegating, all-consuming, and totally erases any kind of independence looks a lot more like domestic violence than fabulous romance, and doormats aren't actually very interesting as protagonists. Grace has literally no interests outside of her werewolf boyfriend and COOKING; if Shiver were set in the fifties, it might make a little more sense (parody? meta-commentary on heteronormative romantic narratives via the fantastic? something? something?).

So what gives? Why are we settling for the same old crap tied up in a paranormal package? Is this really what the ladies want? To hang out moping over some dude all day, occupying ourselves in the kitchen, hoping he does something exciting like get hurt or have a temper tantrum so we can engage in some high-stakes caretaking? Can we maybe aim a little fucking higher, please? Don't try and tell us This Is What Sells; plenty of books with toughass young ladies at their hearts have blown up all over the place. Pullman's (NYT bestselling) Lyra is as fierce and complicated a wee heroine as a reader could ask for; likewise Katsa of Kristin Cashore's (NYT bestseller) Graceling , who is an UNDEFEATABLE ASSASSIN, for pete's sake, and who refuses to marry her tasty morsel of a manfriend because she's worried about cramping her style; Clary of Cassandra Clare's (NYT bestselling) Mortal Instruments trilogy manages to harbor a salacious forbidden passion for a hot Bad Dude while having, you know, a rich inner life, worrying about her family, and delivering sassy one-liners; even Ever, the heroine of Alyson Noel's (NYT bestselling) supremely trashy (and not exactly infused with a feminist politics) Immortals series manages to cultivate a few hobbies whilst pursuing her Monosyllabic Tormented Demon Man.

So all we can say is: KNOCK IT OFF. Knock off buying this shit, and knock off cranking it out. It is tough enough being a lady in this world, Author-friends, without having it hammered into our goddamn heads that we're STILL supposed to sit tight, shut up, and look pretty. We are NOT HAVING IT. If anybody around here gets to be a werewolf, it's gonna be US. And we will eat you right up, believe it.