Book Review: Mongrels, Stephen Graham Jones (2016)

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

This book gave me a serious case of Sad Eyes.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for violence, including animal abuse.)

This is how it is with werewolves. Even when they lie, it’s the truth. And now I knew the truth about myself. I was a murder weapon. I was revenge. I was a burden my aunt and uncle had been carrying around for ten years already, out of obligation to my mom. I was maybe a wolf, maybe not.

“Being a werewolf isn’t just teeth and claws,” she said, her lips brushing my ear she was so close, so quiet, “it’s inside. It’s how you look at the world. It’s how the world looks back at you.”

“You’re not going to believe this,” the villager’s uncle says back to the villager’s aunt, his smile as wide as the villager’s ever seen. “One of them’s got a pitchfork.”

Arkansas. Texas. Florida. New Mexico. Georgia. Alabama. Mississippi. South Carolina.: “Riding the yo-yo,” Darren called it. The unnamed narrator of Mongrels has spent much of his young life traversing the southern U.S., hopping from state to state, running as far as the family’s current junker would take them. Trying to stay ahead of the snow – and the law. Living on the outskirts of town, in rundown rentals and dilapidated trailers, taking low-wage (yet honest) work where they could find it, but always falling back on theft to round out their diets. Strawberry wine coolers. Cases of steak. Wild deers and the occasional calf.

The boy – sometimes a villager, other times a reporter, always a wolf-in-waiting – never knew his parents. As a topic of conversation, dad is off-limits; and his mother, Jessica, died in childbirth. Just like her mother before her. It’s more than a family curse: it’s a species curse. Human women cannot safely give birth to werewolves. Unlike her littermates, Libby and Darren, Jessica didn’t inherit her father’s wolf blood.

In the wake of his mother’s death, the boy was raised by wolves – Grandpa, Aunt Libby, Uncle Darren – but still isn’t sure whether he is one. Werewolves don’t turn until adolescence, you see.

(More below the fold…)