Thursday, November 12, 2009

Shiver v. Twilight? Which Will Win In My Knock-Down-Drag-Out-Take-No-Prisoners Review?

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

I never should have read Twilight. Or the Harry Potter books for that matter. Why not? Well, it's like this: I know Stephenie Meyer and J.K. Rowling didn't invent the YA magical/urban fantasy genre (or did they?), but I hold them dually responsible for making it so BIG. And, because I consider them the genre leaders, I can't read this kind of novel without comparing it to those penned by Meyer and Rowling. Am I the only one with this problem (Please tell me there's a support group out there somewhere ...)? In one way, I think these inevitable comparisons make authors up the ante, pushing them to be ever more imaginative and original. On the other hand, I feel kind of bad for YA authors in the post-Twilight/HP world, as any similarity in plot or characterization between their books and the biggies always feels like literary thievery. So, yeah, I wish I could cleanse my palette between tastes of Twilight/HP and samples of their many, many successors.

All of which brings me to Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater. I'd heard so much about this book that I immediately put it on hold at the library. Then, I waited. And waited. I swear we must have the slowest readers in the country! When it was finally my turn, I delved right into the book. Was it worth the wait? Well, that's the burning question, isn't it? And guess what, because I'm cruel like that, I'm going to make you wait for the answer. Mwah ha ha! (You could always just scroll down to see the "grade," but that would ruin all the fun, now wouldn't it?)

Shiver stars high school junior Grace Brisbane, a girl who's obsessed with the wolves that creep through the woods behind her house. She should be terrified of the animals - when she was a child, a pack dragged her off her swingset, snarling and nipping at her vulnerable body. They clearly intended to kill her. And they would have if it hadn't been for their yellow-eyed brother, who came to her rescue. He should have inspired terror in young Grace, but he didn't. He seemed kind, almost human. Since then, she watches the woods for her special wolf, waiting anxiously for his grey pelt and kind eyes to appear at the edge of the trees. Is he, perhaps, as obsessed with her as she is with him?

When one of Grace's classmates dies from a wolf attack, her Minnesota town goes on high alert, determined to drive the animals out via hunting rifle. Grace knows she can't let harm come to her special wolf, but how to stop it? When the shooteing brings her face-to-face with a pair of familiar yellow eyes on an unfamiliar human body, she realizes just what she's dealing with: werewolves. Only "her" werewolf - Sam Roth - is no monster. He's sweet, sensitive and devoted to "his" human. With Sam furiously trying to keep his human form, the town in a frenzy to hunt down every wolf, and Grace desperate to keep the boy she loves by her side, things are exciting, frantic and heading toward a very frightening conclusion. The more impossible their love seems, the harder Grace will fight to save it. But what if her all isn't enough? How much will she sacrifice to be with Sam?

Okay, obvious Twilight parallels: Teenage junker-driving girl meets boy of a different species; said girl and boy fall in love - mad, obsessive, wholly consuming love; their "intimate" relationship (which includes Sam sleeping in Grace's bed, but only sleeping, because "he's not an animal" [although they end up going a tad bit farther than Edward and Bella]; said intimacy is made possible because of distracted/absent parents; Sam's pack includes members with differing feelings about his involvement with a full-time human, at least one of which is enraged enough to take action; and ... that's it.

Stiefvater v. Meyer: In a war of words, I think Stiefvater would win, as she's clearly the better wordsmith. Her writing gets downright poetic at times. Plus, I just love this book quote:

"As the hours crept by, the afternoon sunlight bleached all the books on the shelves to pale, gilded versions of themselves and warmed the paper and ink inside the covers so that the smell of unread words hung in the air" (8).

The "smell of unread words" - I'm drooling here. I do think, though, that Meyer did a better job of creating a believable world. Shiver left me with all kinds of questions, whereas Twilight answered all the whys and wherefores of the vampire/werewolf worlds. Now, this could be because I've read 3 of the 4 Twilight books and only 1 in Stiefvater's series (Shiver's sequel comes out in the Fall) and to be truthful, I can no longer distinguish between Twilight and the others, so I could be misremembering ... still, I felt that there were some glaring plot issues in Shiver. Also, while I enjoyed most of the characters in Shiver, many of them (including Grace) came off as rather flat.

Shiver v. Twilight: Funny enough, I liked and disliked both books for virtually the same reasons. Shiver's just as engrossing as Twilight - it's atmospheric, dramatic and compelling. Both feature likeable characters (in fact, I think I prefer rugged-good boy Sam to coolly-polished Edward) and passionate love stories. I raced through both novels, dying to know how it would all turn out. Although I feel like Twilight has more substance, Shiver offered enough surprises to keep me interested. It's definitely a pageturner that will appeal to teen girls (Teen boys? I'm thinking, not so much) as well as adults. Also, Stiefvater keeps things almost as clean as Meyer, emphasizing emotional intimacy over physical, which I always find refreshing.

On the flip side, I think both books emphasize teenage love a little too much. Yes, it's achingly romantic, but it's also obsessive. Both Grace and Bella shirk off friendships, family relationships, and outside interests to be with their beloved as much as possible. Unhealthy? I think so. Sure, they're all supposed to be soulmates, but meeting the one person for you while you're in high school? How often does that happen? It does, of course, but I also think it's dangerous to put forth the idea that teens should commit themselves to their high school crushes. Just the mom in me talkin', you know? Speaking of, although I appreciate the "clean" romance, I don't think couples as passionate as Bedward and Gram could really be in the same bed every night without "getting in trouble" PDQ. And where in the world are the parents in these books?

My conclusion: Finally, right? I enjoyed Shiver. More than Twilight? Not really, but it definitely held my attention and I'm absolutely interested in what's going to happen next. Would I have liked it more if I had read it before Twilight? No, I really don't think so. Twilight wowed me, Shiver didn't. Who do I think is the better writer? I'd go with Stiefvater. I want to read her not just because of what she says, but because of how she says it. Plus, Twilight's over, Shiver's just getting started. It's got a whole lot of potential. I'm anxious to see where it goes. If it heads into blood-sucking territory, though, I'm SO out of there ...

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for some language and sexual content (it's not graphic, but it's there)

To the FTC, with love: How do I love thee, library? Let me count the ways ...

8 comments:

  1. Great review!

    I went to the bookstore today and added Shiver to my "Christmas Wishlist".

    Luckily for me, I don't have the problem of comparing YA books of the paranormal kind with Twilight. I never finished the series. ~laughs~

    I am looking forward to reading Shiver.

    Jessica W. - Book Bound

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  2. I have had Shiver on hold at my library FOREVER it seems! It's getting closer though. It's funny how I check out a book and have it read within a day or so and it takes some people weeks!! Anyway, great review as always!:)

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  3. What a great comparison look at these two! I completely agree that the writing was better in Shiver (I used that quote in my review as well), while Twilight is a consuming story.

    And, yeah, everything will be compared to Harry Potter or Twilight (and now, possibly, Hunger Games). Too bad in some ways, but totally unavoidable.

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  4. Great review! I've been going back and forth on this one. But I definitely think I'll check it out now!

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  5. Interesting review and comparison! I always enjoy reading what you write. I loved the Harry Potter series and really liked Shiver, but I couldn't stand Twilight.

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  6. I am going to put this one on hold at the library too. Hopefully I'll get it before next winter!

    I also compare EVERY YA fantasy type book to HP/Twilight. It actually bugs me that I do it, and I don't know how to stop. If you find a support group, I will join!

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  7. Thanks for the great review! I love that book quote you shared too~
    I read Twilight...thought I wouldn't like it, and ended up loving it! (Same with HP).
    I'll have to add Shiver to my list.

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  8. I told a friend recently that I've been enjoying the new tv series The Vampire Diaries. She right away complained that it was a total rip off of Twilight and all the reasons Twilight rules (mind you she hasn't actually read the books, just watched the movie). She didn't say anything after I explained to her that The Vampire Diaries are based on a series of books from the 90's, before Twilight. I guess everything, before and after, will be compaired!

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