August 31, 2011

Turning Pages: WOLF MARK, by Joseph Bruchac

Previous books I've read by Joseph Bruchac have been targeted toward middle grade readers, and have been flavored with Native American folktale retellings, full of the natural world and sharp - but gently presented - wisdom. This story has the wisdom and the tales, but more sharpness -- a pair of needle-sharp canines, an host of evil villains, the Sunglass Mafia, a really cool motorcycle, and a cute Pakistani girl.

Every time I thought I had this one figured out, I'd read a little bit more, and mutter, "Huh!" A few too many details sometimes, but this absorbing novel is a new direction for Bruchac, and it's one I really like. We need more guy authors writing YA, more of them who have varied life experiences and varied cultural goodies to bring to the table. I really enjoyed the dark thriller aspects of this novel, as well as the friendship aspects, and the narrative voice, and I really hope to see more from this author for this audience.

Reader Gut Reaction: I am over werewolves, zombies, unicorns, and vampires. That said (and I do feel like I say this every week!), any story that breathes new life into these tropes is going to get a five minute once-over. Wolf Mark got me past that first five minutes, and then I was in for all 392 pages.

An intelligent narrative voice, a slow unfolding of events that paced along faster and faster until the plot was at a gallop, a sense of creepiness that just straight up flowed along to menace, complete with cackling ├╝ber-villain, genetic manipulation and Creature Features made this a surprising lot of fun. A male author and manly protagonist in a novel which is effortlessly interesting to both guys and girls is just an extra plus.

There is so much going on in this one small town, and in the character's pasts. I wanted to know more, and felt sometimes like I was being shown a few rabbit trails that we wouldn't have time to delve into, and that was a mite frustrating. The novel feels complete, so this wasn't setting the scene for sequels, but there's a lot of room to reuse some of the history and setting details for other books, in a more sparing fashion, perhaps.

Concerning Character: Luke is a loner -- his Mom and favorite Uncle Cal are dead, his ex-military Dad's a drunk with post-traumatic stress disorder, and his two best friends are a geeky musician who could body double for Abbot from Abbot & Costello and a Muslim girl he's not even supposed to be thinking about, much less thinking the kinds of things he's thinking about her. Luke's a realist -- in a small town, he knows he sticks out, he knows that everyone knows about his Dad's substance abuse, and he knows that he'll never get the girl, and possibly that he'll never get his Dad back. Loneliness, solo time in The Sardine Can, their nasty little aluminum trailer, and remembering life as he knew it is going to have to suffice for him, at least until he graduates from high school and figures out what it is that he wants to do in this wide world.

Luke thinks he has the world pretty well figured out... but, what he thinks he knows is nothing like what reality turns out to be. One day, his father calls him at school to say he's been called out of town for a job... coded words, which bring Luke alert...

Recommended for Fans Of...: Creepy paranormal fantasy fiction turned science fiction, and suspense novels with an intelligent narrator... like The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey, or fast-paced, high body count and high gadget books like Ian Flemming's Bond novels - seriously. There's an element of Super Whacked Villain that is pure Flemming going on. Think Dr. No with werewolves and vampires.

However, Meena remains covered appropriately, so her Bond Girl creds are a little low...☺

Themes & Things: This novel has a lot of tragedies - when it opens, Luke's mother has already died, as has his Uncle Cal. His father is lost in his bottles, and later losses include The Sardine Can. However, the bright thread is Luke's buddies - his friend Renzo, who is always ready to have his back, regardless of the odds, his brilliant friend Meena, who defies convention and tradition to befriend him, and other unusual allies who unexpectedly become friends. And yet, there's really no happy ending - which is the truth.

The novel is about dealing, when no happy ending presents itself. Luke deals with his losses as his father deals with the things that have been thrown his way. The reader concludes that things continue dark, but friends are the best happy ending a book - and a life - can have.

These friends and loved ones give the novel its heart.

Page-turning suspense, a creepy sense of menace, and a deliberate and cool narrator - this novel will go down well with many readers wanting a new twist on an old trope.

FCC: I reviewed this book an advanced review copy, with thanks to NetGalley and Tu Books.

After its release on September 15, you can find WOLF MARK at an independent bookstore near you!


LinWash said...

Hmm. I never heard of this book, but based on your review, it sounds interesting. I'll look for it.

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

I'm an unabashed Joe fan, and I'd like to echo the importance of seeing more diversity in YA speculative fiction in particular.

I'm thrilled that Tu books, a new Lee & Low imprint is geared up to help fill this niche (Wolf Mark is on the first list; I also highly recommend taking a look at Tank Born.)

Anonymous said...

Bruchac's Skeleton Man is one of my favorite scary books, so between that and your review, I think I need to give this a read.

Sarah Stevenson said...

I'm intrigued by this one, for sure! I haven't read much Bruchac, mainly because I don't read a lot of MG fiction, but I'll put this on my list.

tanita✿davis said...

Lin: - This is the FIRST, brand-spankin' new list from Tu, so this is why you've not heard of it -- yet!!

Cyn: I'm on TANK BORN next - can't wait!

Adrienne: - I remember when that one came out - it was kind of a surprise to me, because I guess I was in the "not-scary" mindset with him - was I wrong!

AF: - I read my first Bruchac for that conference we went to (the name escapes me, but you know which one, where we heard him in person) - I sort of boned up, and thought I'd taken his measure. Nice to say I'm wrong.