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Shiver: A Lyrical Teen Romance with a Supernatural Twist

Jordan Gamble | Thursday, January 28, 2010

For the young-at-heart, mentally taxed and/or self-indulgent among us, young adult novels are a treasure trove of enjoyment. After a semester full of course packets, e-reserves and accounting textbooks, sometimes it’s nice to read below our grade level for a few hours. For some, it might be a return to Gary Paulson adventure novels, or maybe some quality time with a modern classic like “Holes” by Louis Sachar.
For those of us with a penchant for light fantasy steeped in angsty romance, the young adult section of the public library is littered with book covers depicting beautiful teenagers in old-timey clothes looking mysterious. Other publishers, trying to pique interest but not wanting to pay models or artists, just slap the title and author on a sparsely decorated cover, usually with something like an beautiful apple or an old picturesque tree taking up the background.
“Shiver” is about a Minnesota girl named Grace who watches, with a devotion bordering on obsession, the wolves that live just beyond the safe boundaries of her backyard. “Safe” probably isn’t the best word though, considering those wolves dragged her from her tire swing when she was 10 and nearly killed her. But there’s one wolf that saved her, the one with yellow eyes, and she’s always felt drawn to him.
No spoiler, guys, this one is easy to tell from the book jacket’s summary: The yellow-eyed wolf is really Sam, an 18-year-old boy who spends his summers as a human and his winters as a wolf. The other ones in his pack are the same, going about their compromised human lives when the temperatures stay balmy but inevitably turning into wolves when the leaves start falling.
Here’s the catch, though — eventually they completely stop transforming back in the spring, and they just become wolves forever. Stiefvater tracks the countdown not through time but temperatures — every chapter starts with the degrees Fahrenheit.
 “Shiver” has been billed as “‘Twilight’ but with just the werewolves!” It’s an apt comparison and a good hook to draw in fans of Stephenie Meyer’s books and the blockbuster film adaptations.
But the “Twilight” comparisons start to grate when every other young adult book released these days is a supernatural romance involving a dull, ordinary human girl and a painfully beautiful, deeply tortured supernatural boy (often with yellow eyes, to boot). It’s as if every one of these authors drew up a Mad Libs based on Meyer’s books and just inserted random mythical beasts in place of ‘vampire.’
Thankfully, Stiefvater’s book resembles “Twilight” only in the briefest of book jacket summaries. This is because “Shiver” shows evidence of careful and controlled writing, much better than what’s on display in Meyer’s creations. To be fair, this is a pretty standard assessment for about every other book ever written.
Ostensibly, first-person narration is easier to spit out but harder to control. Some young adult authors, perhaps in an attempt to create relatable characters, end up with a stream-of-consciousness novel with lots of reflection but no plot. But Stiefvater succeeds in this department, especially refreshing since she has not one, but two characters doing first-person narration. The chapters roughly alternate between Sam and Grace’s perspectives, which lets on just enough but not too much about the characters and the plot. It all ties up neatly at the end, although Stiefvater has announced a sequel due in summer 2010 to be titled “Linger.”
“Shiver” has a lyrical simplicity more akin to books like “The Giver” or possibly early Robin McKinley. Through careful yet evocative prose, Stiefvater creates mystery, her plot tightly bound even as there is room to linger on character moments. There are no histrionics here, but Grace and Sam are still wonderful characters with flaws. Stiefvater is able to convey the dynamics of a true teen romance, albeit one with a supernatural conflict.
The incessant suspense (Is it too cold now? What about now?) definitely makes “Shiver” a page-turner, although sometimes the logistics of Stiefvater’s werewolves bend too conveniently to fit the needs of the plot. Nevertheless, this quick, entertaining read is well crafted. It’s a smart and “pretty” book that hauls in the emotional investment.