REVIEW: Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Dear Ms. Barnes,
Many moons ago, when Smart Bitches, Trashy Books hosted a bookchat for this book. I finished it a mere two hours beforehand, but I was so glad I did. The chat was amazing, but more so was the actual book. The bitchery and I discussed so many excellent topics for about it for a good hour before you made your guest appearance. From feminism to child abuse to sexuality, you tackle so many issues of reality effortlessly in a paranormal novel. Readers will be surprised by what is lurking within these pages.
When she was four years old, Bronwyn watched as her parents were brutally murdered by a rogue werewolf known as a Stray. She was taken in by a local alpha werewolf – the good kind – named Callum, and was raised up as a teenager among wolves. Bryn has never become a werewolf, but has always been a little faster and had better senses than anyone else around her. Her life has been under the patriarchal rule of the pack, and her humanity has been one of the few things keeping her sanity in check. Bryn could only imagine what it would be like to be under the pack mentality.
The pack has been on edge lately, neglecting to let Bryn know exactly why. The truth is a boy has been bitten and is being kept in Callum’s house until further notice. Caged. It’s the only way to keep him from hurting others, like Bryn. She wants to see him desperately. The only way is to agree to conditions set by Callum. That means seeing Chase with at least two older pack members present. As well as acknowledging the pack bond. There is an itch at the edge of her subconscious that begs her to listen to the alpha and higher wolves. The itch she’s been fighting year after year after year. The itch that gives her the sense of individuality that no one else in the pack can claim.
Becoming part of the pack gives Bryn a new set of emotions to endure. What Callum and most of the higher ranked pack members says is law. That means no rebellion or teenage angst. She manages to get closer to Chase, and realizes that he’s a lot like her. He was bitten by a Stray as well. Maybe even the same stray that bit her. They have a connection no one else in the pack has. This connection also causes problems for Bryn. Her rebellious nature still manages to seep past the walls of the pack mentality, and it leads to her life as part of the pack becoming more and more troubled.
Can one write a more awesome protagonist than Bryn? She’s headstrong and determined, totally feminist and independent, and never takes shit for her ideals. None of this is in the overdone urban fantasy heroine way, either. Bryn is a complete original in the world of YA, and she is just such a joy to read about. I was majorly connected to her during the reading experience, and that takes a lot. To get to the point where I feel the emotional pain of the character is quite rare and an excellent moment as a reader. Her complex past involving the Stray attack was also interesting. It brings to light new layers on her resistance to the male-oriented pack authority and her inability to pretend it’s okay.
Bryn’s further cast into the difficult role of pack or self throughout a majority of the novel. It’s a major focal point for her inner growth as a character, and it was smartly done in the respect that she managed to convey the exact experiences with the pack that made it both extremely troubling, yet very safe protective. The reader never completely becomes comfortable with the pack mentality, as Bryn is constantly questioning it and its baser instincts. Said mentality is very rooted in animal instincts, and the research and thought brought in to the creation of the pack in this novel is evident with how real and animalistic it feels. Especially one scene that ties together the pack theme with the abuse one that really got under my skin.
What will bring the reader and Bryn back from the dark place this scene goes is the immediate action from Bryn’s confidante Ali, who is married to one of the wolves and has two young toddlers to care for as well. She’s the only other human, and they have a mother/daughter like bond. Which is why Ali packs Bryn’s things with hers and forces her to go far, far away from the pack. Because abuse cannot be tolerated, even if it’s by someone that loves you.
Chase was the only character that I really felt lacked dimension. His relationship with Bryn is very quick and needy, and it was the only flaw in the novel I could find. So many other great things were going on, and while the romance was by no means the only aspect, it was an important one. Bryn is such a great character, and Chase just didn’t live up to her greatness. I can’t wait to see how he is fleshed out in the second novel, Trial by Fire, due next year.
Your writing was great. I loved your ability to juggle several hard, realistic elements with many great paranormal elements. World building never suffered, and your novel was a highly original contemporary piece and paranormal piece that read unlike anything else on the market right now. It’s a realistic book inside a werewolf body, and makes the hard themes all the more realized to readers. No case of purple prose to be found. It was a breath of fresh air in the YA novel spectrum.
Raised by Wolves is a novel steeped with great ideas and characters that feel real and impose many questions on the reader that will cause the gears in their brain to turn. Aside from a shot-gun romance, every aspect was done to the best of its ability, and comes out as a beautiful tapestry that melds together hard contemporary fiction with the pulpy and dangerous werewolf fiction that’s becoming so popular. Your novel will have no trouble finding an audience, and will be a great jumping off point for someone that doesn’t like the paranormal novels on today’s market. They will have a hard time hating this one. A-
All the best,
*A lot of these ideas were greatly fleshed out in the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books bookclub chat, and I’d like to thank everyone who attended. Doing a YA novel was a blast, and so many of these ideas became clearer to me post-chat. Especially the status of bagels and bagel condiments in the wolf pack.*
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Thanks for this. I am putting together a Christmas box of books for a friend’s granddaughter– the friend does not like to read, not at all, so I do this every year for the granddaughter. This one is definitely going in.
@DS Hope she likes it!
Sorry about the errors in the first paragraph. I should really wait until the morning to start these things. O.O
mmm… you are tempting me to lift my YA ban, and try this one.
Bryn sounds like my kind of heroine.
None of this is in the overdone urban fantasy heroine way, either.
I’m sorry I don’t mean to intrude on your very good review, but I’m hearing this type of comment about urban fantasy heroines a lot lately. Can you expand on this in another post and perhaps explain how this is different than male heroes or child leads?
@query1: Since I don’t really have a huge opinion on this, I don’t feel the need to do a whole opinion post on it. Basically, a lot of urban fantasy/paranormal romance heroines are known as being ‘kick butt’ and have the same kind of feminist and tough sensibilities. It’s become kind of a cliche, as many seasoned reviewers of the genre point out.
In YA, these heroines aren’t so common, and Bryn has a more intelligent and genuine take on this personality type. That’s why I wanted to separate it from the type that I’m sure many of the readers on here have read before.
@Edie: Buy it. Read an excerpt somewhere. If my endorsement isn’t enough, Smart Bitch Sarah was just enthusiastic about it. It’s a read that will not disappoint if you’re jaded about YA paranormal romance.
Good review John, I agree with it wholeheartedly especially the comment about Chase (he needed to be more defined). Really enjoyed this one, which I also read for the Smart Bitches chat at the last minute (which I then ended up missing).
It means a totally different thing to me than it does to John, actually. I’m with him for them being ‘kick butt’ and having tough sensibilities, but not so much on the feminism. And I think that the whole overdone thing is about the way that the two I agreed with are executed, not with them in and of themselves.
So many urban fantasy heroines (and I have to say that I don’t think this applies to paranormal romance heroines very much, they’re a totally different breed) are supposed to be rough and tough, the best fighter ever, etc, but the execution is often quite flawed. They’re either so hard that it can be uncomfortable reading about them, as they have no tact, no social niceties, no friends, and no common sense, or they’re nowhere near as tough as they’re supposed to be and the gaping difference between the way they’re described and the way they actually handle themselves jerks you right out of the story.
I wouldn’t argue that they’re anti-feminist, since they’re clearly (at least supposed to be) strong female characters, but they’re often surrounded by only men and pride themselves on not being like those other useless girly girls, who they just don’t understand. They only time they are feminine is during sex scenes, and that’s only if you assume that femininity = submission, which I think the authors do because there’s still a sociatal notion that anything feminine is weak, and these heroines are strong! Strong, I say!
If they do eventually make friends with another woman, she’s either a surrogate mother or another tough girl with whom they eventually develop a grudging respect.
They’re never attracted to anyone less alpha than them in the slightest, not even a little bit, and it’s not that the men they end up with are equally alpha, either. No, their men are even more alpha and the relationship, even after a declaration of love, often features intense power struggles in which, though both parties compromise, the heroine compromises just a little bit more. The quickest way to sum their romantic relationships up is that if they can beat a dude in a fight, said dude is never ending up with them. Also, they’re nowhere near as comfortable about the prospect of casual sex as they say they are, or as they seem like strong, liberated female characters should be.
In short, they’re pretty one-dimensional as characters, and no one wants to read about that. They’re stuck in a strange little space of being strong but not too strong, because that’d be off-putting, female but not at all girly, because girlishness and strength cannot coexist, and sexually liberated, sure, but not slutty. It can be awkward and painful and gets really, really old really, really fast.
And even the good urban fantasy heroines can sometimes make you want to bang your head against a wall: my personal favourite is Gin from Jennifer Estep’s Elemental Assassin series, because I think she’s actually as strong as she’s made out to be but is allowed to be human, too. The annoying part comes from the fact that she spends a large part of the first book pursuing a guy, pushing him, being the aggressor, pushing him some more, and then when the sexual tension reaches a peak and you think she’d move in on him… she just pushes some more until he finally takes over and only then do they have sex. Because the male character must be the dominant one! *lolsob*
Forgot to add, the above comment was in reply to @query1‘s question.
@Niveau: I think that explains it a little better! I think I was putting in feminist for strong – mostly because Bryn, in this case, does have a slightly feminist undertone. You are right in that heroines aren’t feminist so much as strong and independent – until the guy comes along. Then it’s a load of crap.
Execution is unfortunately a big factor – although I personally think the genre is becoming over saturated as well. I haven’t been able to try it as of late because I see so much of it in YA, although in YA the relationships of the UF variety are a lot more even. -_- Either way, it’s annoying. I think it may, in some small way, also help with the PR/UF confusion. If the strong woman is still the weak and shaky one sexually, it would probably seem like a romance to someone inexperienced.
ARRRHHH! Just lost my comment and of course I didn’t have it saved :( Will try and remember what I said.
Thank you John for a lovely review. I’m on a YA vacation ATM, but your review really has me tempted to dip my toe back into the YA pool. (I should so not be mixing metaphors :)
Niveau – thank you for putting into words my issues with the majority of UF heroines. Oh, and can I add mouthy? I just find that the cliched UF heroine is always mouthy, regardless of the situation. I think that’s why I love Patricia Brigg’s Mercy Thompson. I love Mercy’s balancing act with the dominant wolves…and how Patricia explains Mercy’s thinking behind her actions…whether to speak up or keep quiet. Mercy…picks her battles :)
@orannia: yes yes yes on the mouthy! I think that part of it, again, is an execution issue, because Mercy can be like at times, but since Briggs does a great job of making us see why Mercy acts and speaks the way she does instead of just showing the actions themselves, I’m always with her. (Plus Adam is one of the least annoying UF alpha males, so I don’t feel like she’s betraying herself and her values when she’s with him.) On the other hand, you have the first Kate Daniels book: she spends a large part of it fighting dominance battles but that’s never properly explained. You just see her being snarky again and again, doing things that seem incredibly stupid. I disliked quite a lot of things about her at first – which is not to say that I love her now or anything, that series and I still have a ton of issues – and it wasn’t until I sat back and thought about why she did what she did that I realized they’d been power struggles in the first place. Until then I’d just thought of her as an annoying brat.
@John: I’m so totally in love with you now for using ‘feminist’ as a synonym for ‘strong’. Lovey lovey love! I agree about the genre being oversaturated, too – I rarely bother to look for new UF these days because there’s just so much of it to sort through.
I would be willing to bet quite a bit than Jennifer Lynn-Barnes has, at the very least, done some research into feminism. The way she wrote about ownership of women in the werewolf community and the way Bryn struggles against the patriarchal system, not because she wants to replace it with a matriarchal one, but because there is something inherently wrong with it were the two points that especially stood out to me, feminism-wise, because the ownership of women and our bodies, and the fact that feminists don’t want to rule over men but rather just want to be treated equally, are things that often pop up in feminist discussion. At least in my experience.
I also think it’s incredibly interesting that the books marketed at teens have a much better sense of gender equality than the ones marketed at adults do, and I wonder if, as some of the current generation of YA readers (the YA YA readers, not the adult YA readers) move into the publishing industry, the gender dynamics of adult books will start to change. I’m not entirely holding my breath on it, though – there’s a reason so many adults read YA books, and imo a large part of it is that they’re free from some of the gender stereotypes that it seems adult books have such a hard time breaking out of.
Slightly off-topic but I have to say that I’d be super-interested in reading a review, by you, of The DUFF. Partially because [insert generic statement about getting a guy’s perspective here] but also, and mainly, because I really quite liked it and I feel everyone else must read it and tell me what they think of it now. And how it relates to this discussion: the protag actually refers to herself as a feminist. And not in a jokey and/or self-insulting way. Gender dynamics in YA, they are not what they are the the adult section.
Gahh I use too many run-on sentences but am too lazy to rewrite them. Read at thine own peril.
@Niveau: In all honesty they’ve been synonymous for a while now in my mind. For a guy (gay as I may be) I am surprisingly very feminist.
Here, here! All of that was echoed quite nicely in the book. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she researched it or is a feminist herself.
A good reason I read YA, indeed. Not only am I the target market, but I genuinely feel like it’s speaking to a modern and intelligent generation. It doesn’t have the same straight and narrow lacing that so many other genres seem to have. That’s also why, imo, it gets books that are so good.
I’ve heard good and bad things about it (mostly good) so I may have to see about that. I can also identify with the MC’s weight issues, so that should prove a very rousing and interesting read!
If that’s the case, I’ll be interested to see what you (and I – as I have not read it as of yet) think of Wither by Lauren DeStefano, coming out in March of 2011. It’s dystopian with polygamy and is being reported by some very picky sources to be on their top 10 of 2011 lists already! Polygamy is something that would heavily influence those gender dynamics for certain!