Shiver in one word: bittersweet. Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver led me through a hopelessly dark tunnel – hopeless to the point where my nose started burning like I was about to cry (but I didn’t) because I felt like I was going to be lost forever in the angst and depression and the unfairness of the world. And so I finally let out a breath when I saw the first glimpse of light. Salvation! There were occasional literary bumps along the way that tripped me up, but in the end, it was still worth it.
Seventeen-year-old Grace was attacked by wolves as a child, but was saved by a yellow-eyed wolf, Sam. She feels an unexplanable attraction to Sam-the-wolf, and he feels the same way. Eventually, Grace finds out that Sam’s a werewolf – and in Stiefvater’s world, that means that Sam turns into a wolf at low temperatures, and shifts back to his human form at high temperatures. However, a werewolf can only shift a finite amount of times, and just as Grace and Sam-the-human start building their relationship, Sam’s time as a human starts running out. Add a jealous she-wolf and a recent wolf attack to the mix, and Grace and Sam have got more than enough on their plate as they try to hold onto their love for each other.
In Shiver, Grace and Sam take turns telling the story in their own voices; and even though the point of view changes every chapter, I always had a clear idea of who was speaking. Grace is a protagonist that I can sympathize with – she’s very independent due to the fact that her parents are always busy and only seem to drop by the house for dinner, but her somewhat dysfunctional family also left her emotionally vulnerable, and I think that made her feelings toward Sam that much more fragile.
However, this was where I encountered the first “bump” in the literary road. Stiefvater’s writing in Shiver comes in two distinct forms: very short to-the-point sentences and descriptive prose. In cases when the latter is overused, I had a hard time believing that Grace is a teenager because she says/thinks things like this:
That night I lay in bed and stared at the window, my blinds pulled up so I could see the night sky. One thousand brilliant stars punched holes in my consciousness, pricking me with longing. I could stare at the stars for hours, their infinite number and depth pulling me into a part of myself that I ignored during the day.
It’s beautiful prose, but I don’t think any young adult would seriously talk about stars like that. (It also made me think of those hole punchers that punch out stars…)
Stiefvater made the same mistake with Sam, but I’ll let that pass, since Sam is like the most perfectly sensitive adorable boy in the whole wide fictional world! I mean, he quotes Rainer Maria Rilke, for crying out loud! He randomly thinks in song lyrics, and he knows how to cook!
Sam has had a rough past, which makes people want to love him and care for him. I also rooted for him during his fight to maintain his human form, which is one of the major themes of the book; each chapter began with the temperature, as if to set the scene for Sam’s struggle between being wolf or human.
I like the relationship between Grace and Sam because it’s passionate, yet surprisingly light-hearted at times… for how arbitrarily they fell for each other (instant love!), Grace and Sam seem like any cute couple in their honeymoon stage, except with more hilarious dialogues than most:
“Let’s talk about cars. Is this one your betrothed? I mean, assuming it runs okay? I don’t know anything about cars, but I can at least pretend. ‘Runs okay’ sounds like something someone would say if they knew what they were talking about, right?”
She seized the subject, petting the steering wheel. “I do like it.”
“It’s very ugly,” I said generously. “But it looks as though it would laugh at snow. And, if you hit a deer, it would just hiccup and keep going.”
Grace and Sam’s relationship was also what made me feel like I was stuck in a dark tunnel and never ever getting out again; Sam’s future permanent werewolf-ness was always the elephant in the room, and yet they still tried to do normal couple-y things and cherish their time together. Add that onto the dysfunctional families and tragic pasts, and there’s the equation for angst.
The second “bump” that I experienced was with the supporting characters. A lot of these characters seemed underdeveloped; for example, one of Grace’s closest friends, Rachel, rarely appeared and consequently didn’t develop throughout the book at all. Grace’s friend’s brother, John, also made the occasional appearance, but his existence didn’t make or break the storyline. The jealous she-wolf, Shelby, was introduced well through flashbacks of her interactions with Sam, but in the end, she also didn’t contribute much to the main storyline. Because the supporting characters didn’t get as much attention, the story leading up to the ending seemed a bit rushed. This might be due to the narration – when the protagonists take the center stage and narrate the story themselves, I think all the other characters fade a bit into the background.
Although the story leading up to the ending was rushed, the ending itself was a gem. It was a twist that I didn’t expect, and I actually did a double take and reread the ending. Twice. Also, I love the way Stiefvater writes about nature:
Every step I took toward the feeder took me closer to the woods. I smelled the crisp leaves of the undergrowth, shallow creeks moving sluggishly beneath a crust of ice, summer lying dormant in unnumbered skeleton trees.
Overall, I think Stiefvater did a great job in making protagonists that were worth caring for. Although I tripped over Grace and Sam’s occasional flowery speech and the lack of development of supporting characters, Grace and Sam’s relationship is definitely what made Shiver so great for me, along with Stiefvater’s ability to set up beautiful scenes.
So if you like angsty love stories, you should read this! If you’re a fan of sensitive, sweet male protagonists with tragic pasts, I’m sure you’ll love Sam. And if you’re interested in reading a different take on the traditional werewolf lore, Shiver is your book.