Review: Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

 

 

Title: Under the Never Sky

Author: Veronica Rossi

Publisher: HarperCollins

ISBN: 978-0062072030

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Since she’d been on the outside, she’d survived an Aether storm, she’d had a knife held to her throat, and she’d seen men murdered. This was worse.

Exiled from her home, the enclosed city of Reverie, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland—known as The Death Shop—are slim. If the cannibals don’t get her, the violent, electrified energy storms will. She’s been taught that the very air she breathes can kill her. Then Aria meets an Outsider named Perry. He’s wild—a savage—and her only hope of staying alive.

A hunter for his tribe in a merciless landscape, Perry views Aria as sheltered and fragile—everything he would expect from a Dweller. But he needs Aria’s help too; she alone holds the key to his redemption. Opposites in nearly every way, Aria and Perry must accept each other to survive. Their unlikely alliance forges a bond that will determine the fate of all who live under the never sky.

In her enthralling debut, Veronica Rossi sends readers on an unforgettable adventure set in a world brimming with harshness and beauty.

Review:

I don’t give out many A grades, but Under the Never Sky earned a great big one!  Once I picked this book up, I could not put it back down, and I read it in two sittings.  While I was sick, no less, and when I didn’t even really feel like reading.  That’s how good this post-apocalyptic/ dystopian novel is, and I think that it is strong enough to appeal to both teen and adult readers.  Diving into the story is like jumping into quicksand; sorry, but you aren’t going to be able to crawl back out until after you read the very last page.

I don’t think I can adequately express how much I loved this book, or why I found it so compelling, especially without getting spoilery, so I’ll touch on the aspects that made the biggest impression on me.  About two chapters in, I was engaged in the story, but I was still able to be distracted by the little things in life – like hunger and the need to use the restroom.  That went away about 100 pages in.  I was not moving, not for anything other than the walls collapsing around me.  Even then, the first thing I would grab after Buu is the book.  That baby wasn’t going to leave my sight!

When I first started the book, I did not like Aria.  She has been privileged and pampered her whole life; she has never wanted for anything.  Inside the dome, she has everything she could ever want.  With the impressive technology available to her, she can travel to virtual realms that seem real in every way; touch, taste, smell – there’s an almost infinite amount of virtual reality worlds where she can visit with just a thought, sending a sliver of herself somewhere else whenever the mood strikes her.  Unlike Perry, her reluctant rescuer in the Death Shop, Aria has never suffered from a lack of food or water, and she has never been in mortal danger, conditions that Perry has to live with every day.

Their first encounter outside of the dome is not pleasant.  Aria is not pleasant.  Aria has a smug, elitist attitude that made me want to smack her.  Perry saves her life a number of times, but can Aria even utter the words “thank you” to him?  Nope, instead she berates him and calls him a savage.  Sigh.  I was worried that Aria would grate on my nerves all the way through the book.

Then something wonderful happened, and it’s something that doesn’t happen very often. Halfway through the book, when I thought back on how far Perry and Aria had traveled, on how far I had traveled with them, I realized something – she had changed, and now she seemed like a really good friend.  Almost a BFF kind of friend.  I liked her!  I liked her spunk and her drive and her stubbornness.  She accepted her faults, and she weighed her behavior and her attitude towards the Outside, and she found that Perry wasn’t such a savage after all.  She found that he was noble and brave and that his word meant everything to him.  And to her, because Perry pledged to help her find her missing mother in exchange for her Smarteye.  What a wonderful moment for Aria, and what a wonderful moment for me.  This is why I read in the first place – to get caught up in the trials and the challenges of characters who have somehow come to life for me.  To get sucked so far into a plot that it consumes my every waking thought, and keeps me mulling over the storyline long after I have finished it.

As I approached the end, I felt something else; sadness and regret.  Perry and Aria seemed like a part of me, and I wasn’t ready to let them go.  Their feelings for each other had me convinced that they were meant for each other, despite their great differences.  Perry would be difficult for any woman to live with, because he can actually smell emotions.  He can smell happiness and joy, as well as sorrow and hurt.  He can smell the untruths that hide behind words.  What would that be like?  What would it be like to actually be able to smell what the people around you are feeling, to taste their emotions and instantly know the truth of their actions?  For the magical duration of Under the Never Sky, I could actually do that.

I was lucky enough to read the book back in October, before all of the reviews started bombarding the internet.  I had no preconceived idea of what the book was even about.   All I knew was that it was a post-apocalyptic, dystopian novel written by a debut author.  How wonderful it was for me to become acquainted with the characters and the setting with no expectations. I even kind of dared the book to entertain me.  It did.  In spades.  It also left me excited about reading again, in a way I haven’t felt in a long while.  Now the race is on!  What other gems will I discover as I search for the next almost flawless read?

Grade: A

Review copy provided by {Teen} Book Scene

Review: Rival by Sara Bennett Wealer

 

Title: Rival

Author: Sara Bennett Wealer

Publisher: Harper Collins

ISBN: 978-0061827624

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Brooke
I don’t like Kathryn Pease. I could pretend everything’s fine between us. I could be nice to her face, then trash her behind her back. But I think it’s better to be honest. I don’t like Kathryn, and I’m not afraid to admit it.

Kathryn
I saw a commercial where singers used their voices to shatter glass, but the whole thing is pretty much a myth. The human voice isn’t that strong.

Human hatred is. Anybody who doubts that should feel the hate waves coming off of Brooke Dempsey. But I don’t shatter; I’m not made of glass. Anyway, the parts that break aren’t on the outside.

Brooke and Kathryn used to be best friends . . . until the night when Brooke ruthlessly turned on Kathryn in front of everyone. Suddenly Kathryn was an outcast and Brooke was Queen B. Now, as they prepare to face off one last time, each girl must come to terms with the fact that the person she hates most might just be the best friend she ever had.

Review:

When Rival first came out, the book flew under my radar.  It wasn’t until reviews started popping up that I realized that it was another contemporary featuring music as a backdrop.  I loved Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez, so I added Rival to my library hold list.  I wanted to revisit the competitive world where gifted musicians put their talent on the line.  This time their instruments were their voices, and the prize was a hefty check to help with college expenses.  For Brooke, the competition is about winning her dad’s attention, and expressing her love for music.  For Kathryn, it means giving her already cash strapped parents a hand with her tuition bills.

Like Virtuosity, the girls must battle with rival singers, and they must also battle with their own inner demons.  Kathryn yearns to be somebody, and when A-lister Brooke befriends her, everything changes for Kathryn.  Unfortunately, her sudden popularity goes right to her head, and Kathryn soon becomes somebody who is very hard to like.  She turns her back on her best friend, starts lying to her parents, and lets her grades plummet.

As Kathryn is drawn further into Brooke’s clique and starts hanging out with Brooke’s other friends, Brooke begins to wrestle with jealousy.  She liked Kathryn when it was just the two of them, talking about music, listening to operas, and going to performances at the local college.  Little by little, Brooke begins to change too.  She allows her envy to eat away at her, and soon, Kathryn and Brooke are mortal enemies, after their emotions flare out of control at a party.  Now Kathryn must deal with bullying as she becomes a social pariah, and Brooke is left with even more feelings of groundlessness.  Her friends don’t understand her, and she knows that they will never get how important music is to her. 

Told through alternating flashbacks to their junior year and their current, intense rivalry now that they are seniors, Sara Bennett Wealer weaves a gripping, compelling look at a friendship gone terribly wrong because of a misunderstanding and the inability of the protagonists, especially Brooke,  to express their feelings.  As Brooke becomes ever more dissatisfied with her friendships, she withdraws more into herself and refuses to confront her feelings.  There’s a lot of angst here – Brooke has so many issues she is trying to deal with, but she can’t open up and confide in anyone, not even Kathryn.  Everyone thinks that she’s one of the golden girls, but her popularity and her status as the Queen B don’t matter to Brooke.  She just wants to lose herself in her music, and she desperately wants to win her father’s approval. 

There were many times that I didn’t particularly like either character, but I did care about them.  They are both flawed, which made them both more relatable.   I kept hoping that they would get over themselves and see what they were throwing away because of their personal ambitions.  I became impatient with both of them, because neither of them seemed to be learning from their mistakes.  Kathryn grew especially trying as she morphed into someone totally opposite of who she had been before she started hanging out with Brooke’s social circle.

If you enjoy emotion-charged contemporaries, Rival is the book for you.  It builds up slowly to a gripping, unflinching look at two friends turned to enemies, exposing their faults and flaws layer by complex layer.  I could not put the book down as they grappled with their inner demons and their sudden and intense dislike for each other.  I bet you won’t be able to put it down either.

Grade: A-

Review borrowed from my local library

Review: Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini

 

Title: Starcrossed

Author: Josephine Angelini

Publisher: HarperTeen

ISBN: 978-0062011992

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

How do you defy destiny?

Helen Hamilton has spent her entire sixteen years trying to hide how different she is—no easy task on an island as small and sheltered as Nantucket. And it’s getting harder. Nightmares of a desperate desert journey have Helen waking parched, only to find her sheets damaged by dirt and dust. At school she’s haunted by hallucinations of three women weeping tears of blood . . . and when Helen first crosses paths with Lucas Delos, she has no way of knowing they’re destined to play the leading roles in a tragedy the Fates insist on repeating throughout history.

As Helen unlocks the secrets of her ancestry, she realizes that some myths are more than just legend. But even demigod powers might not be enough to defy the forces that are both drawing her and Lucas together—and trying to tear them apart.

Review:

I loved the spin Josephine Angelini put on Greek mythology in her debut book, Starcrossed.  I love all of the novels hitting stores shelves with re-imagined myths and fairytales, and I don’t think I will ever get tired of them.  There is a timelessness about them, and such a huge body of material to play with that I’m not even concerned about them sounding too much alike. 

I had very high expectations for Starcrossed, and despite it feeling overlong a few times, it did not disappoint.  I was sucked right into the story, and found it difficult to put the book down, especially after Helen goes berserk and tries to kill Lucas, a guy she hasn’t even met yet!  What was that all about, I wanted to know.  I mean, what would compel this mild-mannered young woman, who by nature is rather  timid, to try to strangle a complete stranger?  That was a great WTF moment, and I was hooked from that point on.

Though Helen’s timidity occasionally irked me, I did like her character.  She has a level-head on her shoulders, as long as she isn’t a slave to the frenzied whispers of the Furies, urging her to kill, kill, kill some guy that she doesn’t even know.  She and her dad live on the island of Nantucket, and Helen has always felt like a freak.  She doesn’t fit in at school, and her only real friend is Claire, a little spitfire who always has her back.  If it wasn’t for Claire, Helen would be totally alone.  Weird things happen wherever Helen goes,  and her classmates quickly ostracize her.  Her self-confidence is sadly lacking, and she does everything she can to just fade into the background.  That’s not so easy with her height and stunning looks, but she still tries to stand out as little as possible.

When Lucas and his family move to the island, Helen’s life is turned upside down.  She’s drawn to Lucas, but for all of the wrong reasons.  She wants to see him dead.  Every time she sees him, she has an obsessive compulsion to kill him.  What Helen doesn’t know is that she is descended from one of the four great houses of Greece, and that all of them are under a curse – one that compels them to kill anyone they see from another house. 

As Helen and the Delos family work through the curse, as well as the visions of the Oracle, they discover that there’s a lot more at stake than overcoming the need to commit violence on members of the other houses.  Helen and Lucas find themselves doing the impossible – they begin to fall in love.  They uncover betrayals, murders, and the mystery behind the disappearance of Helen’s mother.  And once they learn more about both of their families, they are forced to see just how forbidden their love really is.

I loved this book, despite it occasionally feeling overly long.  Illogical and unnecessary roadblocks were thrown up to keep Lucas and Helen apart, and these plot points slowed the flow of story for me.  The complexity of the reimagined mythology more than made up for the pacing missteps, and kept me turning the pages well past my bedtime.  I found Starcrossed a wonderful introduction to the trilogy, and I can hardly wait to find out what happens next.

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Where I Belong by Gwendolyn Heasley

 

Title: Where I Belong

Author: Gwendolyn Heasley

Publisher: HarperTeen

ISBN: 978-0061978845

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Meet Corrinne. She’s living every girl’s dream in New York City—shopping sprees at Barneys, open access to the best clubs and parties, and her own horse at the country club. Her perfect life is perfectly on track. At least it was. . . .

When Corrinne’s father is laid off, her world suddenly falls apart. Instead of heading to boarding school, she’s stripped of her credit cards and shipped off to the boonies of Texas to live with her grandparents. On her own in a big public school and forced to take a job shoveling manure, Corrinne is determined to get back to the life she’s supposed to be living. She doesn’t care who she stomps on in the process. But when Corrinne makes an unlikely friend and discovers a total hottie at work, she begins to wonder if her life B.R.—before the recession—was as perfect as it seemed.

Review:

Corrinne gets an unwanted taste of reality after her father is laid off.  It’s like somebody has pulled the rug out from under her feet.  Good-bye credit card and shopping sprees at her favorite stores, and hello Grandma and Grandpa and the tiny little town of Broken Spoke, Texas.  Corrinne is seething with resentment at the sudden reversal of fortune, and it is going to take more than her grandmother’s delicious home cooking to soothe the sting of her new prospects.  She worked so hard to be accepted into Kent, an exclusive boarding school that she has wanted to attend forever.  Instead, she is going to be enrolled in Broken Spoke High School, a teeny, tiny public school where her grandmother works.  Ugh!  Life just isn’t fair!

At first, Corrinne and I had a personality clash.  I did not like the whining little princess, and I found her selfish behavior inexcusable.  OK, sure, her parents let her get away with anything, and she is clever enough to manipulate them to get her own way, but there were many times that she grated on my nerves.  It wasn’t until after she moves in with her grandparents, and goes head to head with her no-nonsense grandmother that Corrinne slowly begins to see the light.  There are so many more important things than the latest designer shoes, but when you are accustomed to getting everything your heart desires, it is often difficult to see the forest for the trees.

I liked that the focus of the story is on Corrinne and her gradual realization that having material possessions doesn’t mean as much as having good friends and a caring family.  Romance plays a backseat to her character growth.  Instead, Corrinne must come to terms with her new life.  Her grandparents don’t put up with any nonsense from her, and instead take an active interest in her life.  There are chores to do, schedules to keep, certain standards of behavior to adhere to.  I loved the conflict between Corrinne and her grandmother – here are two very stubborn and strong-willed women who clash again and again.  Corrinne doesn’t have much respect for the adults in her life, and her grandmother isn’t going to have any of that.

My favorite relationship in the book is the one between Corrinne and her younger brother Tripp.  Like most big sisters, Corrinne just doesn’t have the time or the patience to hang out with Tripp.  Tripp longs for any scrap of attention from Corrinne, and it was gratifying when she started to look at him, not as a constant nuisance, but as an individual who deserves her time and attention.

Where I Belong is a strong debut, with a compelling storyline, and I am looking forward to reading more by Gwen Heasley.

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Z by Michael Thomas Ford

 

Title: Z

Author: Michael Thomas Ford

Publisher: HarperTeen

ISBN: 978-0060737580

 

May Contain Spoilers

Synopsis:

The First Rule of Torching: Cleanse with fire.

Josh is by far the best zombie Torcher around—at least, he is in his virtual-reality zombie-hunting game. Josh has quickly risen through the player ranks, relying on the skill, cunning, and agility of a real Torcher.

The Second Rule of Torching: Save all humans.

But luckily for Josh, zombies exist only in the virtual world. The real zombie war is now more than fifteen years in the past, and the battle to defeat the deadly epidemic that devastated his family—and millions of others—is the stuff of history lessons.

The Third Rule of Torching: You can’t bring them back.

Charlie is the top-ranked player in the game. Since all the players are shrouded in anonymity, Josh never expects Charlie to be a girl—and he never expects the offer she makes him: to join the underground gaming league that takes the virtual-reality game off the screen and into the streets. Josh is thrilled. But the more involved he gets, the more he realizes that not everything is what it seems. Real blood is spilling, members of the team are disappearing, and the zombies in the game are acting strange. And then there’s the matter of a mysterious drug called Z. . . .

Review:

After my harrowing weekend, I needed a brainless kind of a book, the more action involved and the less thinking on my part, the better.  Instead of watching the Super Bowl by myself, I picked up Z, since it was due back at the library soon and I hadn’t even started it yet.  This was a great choice, because the book moves along like a Formula One racecar and had just enough of a plot to keep me involved in the story and wondering what was going on.  Lead character Josh irritated me occasionally, but mainly because he was acting like a teenage boy.  Under the circumstances, his mother was more than understanding when he choose to ignore house rules, and then he was most unrepentant about his behavior.

Josh has gotten addicted to a virtual reality game, where survival depends on how quickly he can torch zombies.  Josh isn’t supposed to be playing the game, and both of his parents strongly disapprove of  it.  It trivializes the recent past, when a zombie virus swept through the population, leading to the death of many, including Josh’s aunt.  For Josh, the zombie virus is a distant memory, a lesson to be covered in history class; it isn’t much more than that to him, even knowing that his mother suffered so much during the plague.  He doesn’t understand why they can’t see his point of view; it’s nothing but harmless entertainment.

When Josh is approached to play a real-life version of the game, he is stoked.  He can use a real flame-thrower to take out fake zombies, and he make a whole new group of cool friends, too.  He loves playing the game, and he is starting to really like Charlie, a girl who plays like nobody’s business.  She totally rocks at the virtual game, and she holds her own in the real-life version.  She’s cute and funny, and suddenly, Josh doesn’t have time to hang out with his best friend Firecracker anymore.  Nothing matters but the game, and getting to know Charlie better.

Though he irritated me, Josh was very relatable.  He quickly gets caught up in something far larger than himself, and he is helpless to get out.  He is doing something his parents would never approve of, and so he starts telling lies to cover up his new hobby.  He is intoxicated with all of the new experiences, and he is having the time of his life.  Sure, he feels guilty for being dishonest, and also for blowing off his best friend, but he can’t stop himself.  When he discovers that the game is more dangerous than he realized, and that Clatter, the game organizer, isn’t as nice as he pretends, Josh has a lot of decisions to make, and even more growing up to do.

Z is a fun read, with a ton of action that won’t let you put the book down.  I finished it in only a few hours, and the storyline kept me engaged the entire time.  Josh even shows some character development, and he started to think that maybe his parents aren’t so wrong after all.  If I have any quibble about the book, it’s that Josh wasn’t terrified and afraid for his life until the very end.  He is a bit clueless, and doesn’t put two and two together until it’s almost too late.   It also wasn’t as scary as I was hoping, but since I am a chicken, perhaps that was for the best.  

Grade: B+

Review copy obtained from my local library

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver YA Novel Review


Title: Before I Fall

Author: Lauren Oliver

Publisher:  HarperTeen

ISBN: 9780061726804

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

What if you had only one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life?

Samantha Kingston has it all: the world’s most crush-worthy boyfriend, three amazing best friends, and first pick of everything at Thomas Jefferson High—from the best table in the cafeteria to the choicest parking spot. Friday, February 12, should be just another day in her charmed life.

Instead, it turns out to be her last.

Then she gets a second chance. Seven chances, in fact. Reliving her last day during one miraculous week, she will untangle the mystery surrounding her death—and discover the true value of everything she is in danger of losing.

This book is an emotional roller coaster.  At first I could not stand Sam and didn’t really care what happened to her.  She is a follower, and she and her pack of friends are vicious.  They are judgmental, they are petty, and they are mean.  They rule the roost at their small town high school, and they look down their noses at everyone else.  They are cool, they determine who is in the "in" group, and their days are spent in the mindless pursuit of their own gratification.  Sam’s little group is reigned over by Lindsay, a beautiful, charismatic girl who isn’t nearly as good looking once you see at what’s hiding on the inside.  Her razor-blade remarks are cutting and can instantly spiral someone into the depths of untouchable status.  Most of her power comes from fear, because, let’s face it, who wants to be made fun of unmercifully for the remainder of their high school sentence? But even Lindsay has her secrets, and Sam is beginning to understand that they may hold the key to her deliverance.

When Sam dies in a car accident, she is cursed to keep reliving February 12th over and over again.  As the day repeats itself unrelentingly, she discovers that making a change here or there doesn’t free her from the cycle she’s trapped in, but it does cause dramatic changes over the outcome of that particular iteration of the day.  Each reset of this never-ending Friday brings a new set of emotions crashing over her.  Fear, frustration, rage, hope.  It is Sam’s development that kept me on the edge of my seat, her growth from being self-centered and believing that the world revolves around her and her clique, to a much more reflective and kind individual.  At first, she just wants things to go back to the way they were, before the day ended in bone shattering agony of pain and fear.  Then she begins to question her own motivations, and opens her eyes to the flaws in herself and her friends.  This inner growth allowed me to sympathize with her and care about her, and that’s saying a lot, because she is so unlikable at the beginning of the book.

Before I Fall is a gripping read, and it is packed with emotion and suspense.  As Sam careens from one repeated day to the next, I was held spellbound. Literally.  Once she acknowledges her flaws, I couldn’t put the book down.  The book runs you through an emotional wringer, and as Sam progresses from bewilderment, to rage, to acceptance, I often found my heart squeezed with sympathy for her.  The tension became unbearable near the end, as she must weigh the outcome of her actions for every moment of the nightmare day she is trapped in.  Will she ever find redemption, or will she be cursed to endlessly relive the same awful day over and over?  This is a wonderful debut, and I am looking forward to Lauren Oliver’s next effort.

Grade: A-

Review copy provided by publisher

Beastly by Alex Flinn YA Novel Review



Title: Beastly

Author: Alex Flinn

Publisher: HarperTeen

ISBN:  9780060874186

Kyle Kingsbury may be drop dead gorgeous and rich to boot, but he has the personality of a monster.  Spoiled, willful, and only interested in himself, he has a rude awaking ahead of him.  When he pisses off a witch, his life is turned upside down.  Cursed to look like a beast, he will spend the rest of his life as an outcast unless he can find a girl to love him despite his monstrous appearance.  Will anyone be able to look beyond his hideous exterior and accept Kyle for himself?

Karma certainly came back to bite the odious Kyle on the butt.  At the beginning of the book, he is a really awful person, and when the witch curses him, it’s hard to feel bad for him.  Kyle doesn’t like anyone, not even himself.  He’s a poser, and he spends his time feeling smug and superior to everyone else.  What he really wants, though, is for his father to actually acknowledge him and give him even a scrap of attention.  When he doesn’t, Kyle lashes out at everyone, becoming very, very ugly on the inside, even though he is beautiful on the outside.

When he pulls a mean prank on the wrong person, he learns the hard way that it’s better to treat everyone with respect and to look beyond appearances.  This is a difficult lesson to learn, but when people shun him the way he has turned his back on others, he slowly begins to deconstruct his life and take a good, long look at the person he has become.  Kyle was mean and spiteful, and when he begins to accept that he needs to change, he becomes a gentler, much more likeable character.

Alex Flinn puts a modern spin on the tale of Beauty and the Beast, and I don’t want to ruin the reading experience by dissecting the plot too much.  Instead, I’ll say that it was heartwarming to watch as Kyle begins to grow beyond his petty old self and learn to love other people.  Once he becomes capable of caring for others, they become capable of caring for him.  He is forced to work through his inner ugliness in order to emerge a better person, and his journey is full of compelling drama and self introspection.  If I have one quibble with the book, I felt that it started to drag a bit near the end.  Still, we are treated to a satisfying conclusion, as Kyle learns that what is on the inside of a person is far more important than outward appearances.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher

Never Cry Werewolf by Heather Davis YA Novel Review



Title: Never Cry Werewolf

Author: Heather Davis

Publisher: Harper Teen

ISBN:  9780061349232

Shelby Locke is having some disciple issues, and her parents, fed up with her unruly behavior, send her off to brat camp for the summer.  As if being stuck spending the summer with a bunch of spoiled rich kids and intrusive camp councilors isn’t bad enough, Shelby displays her bad judgment by falling for Austin, the son of an infamous rock star.  Austin’s got some real issues of his own, but Shelby can’t figure out exactly what they are.  Is he just a delusional substance abuser,  or is there a deep, dark secret that his family has been trying to keep, one so dark and explosive it will bring them to their knees?

I have to admit that I was a little disappointed with this book.  Shelby isn’t a very likeable protagonist, and most of her troubles she causes for herself.  Since the death of her mother three years earlier, she is having some understandable issues accepting that her mother is gone.  To add to her troubles, her father remarries a woman more concerned with her social status than forming a cozy family for the three of them.  This leads to Shelby acting out against her dad and step-mom, defying the rules that they have instituted for her.  She keeps landing in hot water, and as her escapades escalate, her frustrated family packs her off to Camp Crescent, a therapeutic camp for rich kids.

With her summer plans to Cabo snatched from her and prom an unobtainable dream, Shelby finds herself on a bus to camp instead.  Before she even arrives at her destination, a flat tire and two wayward campers gets her on the list of troublemakers.  Shelby is the kind of girl who acts first, then thinks about the consequences of her actions.  When two of the privileged campers head off into the woods, she runs off after them, thinking that without her help, they are doomed to be lost in the woods, without food, water, or shelter.  While Shelby’s father might have been an Eagle Scout, it is evident that she is not, and soon, bad boy Austin is rescuing her.

Austin is the son of a flamboyant rock star, and it’s clear that he has some serious issues to work through.  Shelby is instantly attracted to him, but when weird things start happening as the night of the full moon draws closer, she starts to think that he may be bad news.  May be?  Yeah, she can bet a garden trowel on that, because every time she’s with him, it seems that she’s getting more time in detention, weeding the never ending rows of the camp’s flower beds.

My disappointment with Never Cry Werewolf comes from Shelby’s lack of growth. Though she makes tiny strides to a new maturity and outlook on life, she remains, essentially, the same angry, frustrated girl from the opening scene.  Just when she was starting to open up and trust again, she is thrust into a situation where she doesn’t have much of an opportunity to learn to communicate her feelings.  Her ability to transform into a girl with a new perspective on life was robbed from her, and I felt shortchanged as well.

The romance between Shelby and Austin didn’t have much in the way of romantic tension. Shelby is, if not terrified of him, leery and harbors a healthy dose of fear of him.  He is BAD NEWS.  And she is supposed to stay away from bad news and stay out of trouble so she doesn’t get sent to the scary hell of brat camps, Red Canyon, which makes Camp Crescent look like preschool.   Shelby, and everyone else at camp, thinks that Austin has a substance abuse problem.   What he really has is a very intense craving for red meat and teeth that lengthen perceptibly as the full moon draws near.  Getting Shelby to believe he’s a werewolf is about as tough as smuggling a cell phone into camp, so much of the conflict between them revolves around his feelings of betrayal that she doesn’t believe him.

Never Cry Werewolf offers an intriguing cast, but I felt that the time spent with them was cut short.  The heroine has some very real and compelling problems to work through, but we never labor to a satisfying resolution.  The book is a quick read and offers up an enjoyable romp in the woods, complete with a snarling werewolf,  a kid with a nose for sniffing out gossip, and magical night in the forest during a full moon.  It’s only lacking some solid character development to deliver a more substantial read.

Grade: B-

Review copy provided by Harper Books