OH NO SPOOKTOBER IN YOUR FACE!!
fulfilling my 2021 goal to read one ARC each month i’d been so excited to get my hands on and then…never read
okay, i need more stars for this one.
This is what it means to be a werewolf
this book is definitely going to be in my top three for the year. <— that is the beginning of a review i began in november 2021 and never got around to finishing. here in april 2022, i can tell you that it did indeed make the top three.
i grabbed this ARC back in TWENTY FIFTEEN because even back then i’d heard great things about this author, and that cover is divine, so i don’t know why i waited so long to read it. if i had known that it was one of those emotionally resonant family horror stories like A Cosmology of Monsters or The Saturday Night Ghost Club, where the horror/supernatural elements are just ingredients baked into a beautifully sad family drama that breaks your heart, i would not have dawdled.
werewolves aren’t necessarily my thing, but i love horror, so i’ve been around the werewolf block a few times in my life, discovering some great werewolf-y books and movies along the way, but this one is something special.
sgj has taken the to-be-expected tropes of a werewolf story and wrapped them in all new material, a mythos painstakingly developed right down to the bones, scritching this new beast behind its ears until it howls.
Mongrels is about a family of itinerant werewolves, endlessly pulling up stakes and skipping town to avoid discovery; a blurry succession of temporary addresses and fresh starts. their only constant is the family—their three-person pack—and they are fiercely loyal; they would fight kill or die for each other. and they have and they do.
our narrator is a boy growing up into an adolescent hoping to grow up into a werewolf, moving from town to town with his aunt, uncle, and grandfather, as yet unshifted but wanting to change so desperately, to become like the rest of his family, to transform into what he’s meant to be.
but there’s no guarantee that he will change—and this uncertainty and yearning is a palpable weight hanging over every page, adding a whole ‘nother layer on top of the more traditional coming-of-age themes like emotional growth, taking responsibility, and preserving the family values.
it’s one of the most poignant and heartbreaking stories i’ve ever read—a family bound together fiercely by their love, commitment and sacrifice, who also just matter-of-factly happen to be werewolves.
they’re a very insular pack—as wary of other werewolves as they are of humans, and their pattern of staying on the move and leaving everything behind means they don’t have a community to fall back on or others of their kind to share information with, and as a result, they don’t know as much as they think they know about what they are. their understanding of the rules, dangers, and possibilities has come from relying on family lore which has, over time, become a game of telephone; misinformation passed down through the generations preventing them knowing that there are other, less lonely ways to be a werewolf in the world.
it’s funny and sad and violent and i fell deeply in love with every one of the characters. i especially loved the grandfather and his stories, and when those stories were later refracted (telling me one story, meaning another), and the underlying truths behind each of them was revealed; moondogs, sad eyes, it is genuinely moving, and even though it kept punching me in the heart, i never wanted it to end.
i don’t know what else to say.
it’s absolutely perfect.
and my heart’s still howling about it.