As a child, Grace was attacked by the wolves living in the woods behind her house and almost killed. Her memory of the event is hazy, but she remembers the yellow eyes of the wolf that saved her, and since then she’s seen him every winter lurking just outside her backyard. In the summer, however, he’s conspicuously absent, and she misses him keenly. Sam, the wolf in question, is a werewolf, and while he watches over Grace as a wolf, as a human he can’t get up the courage to speak to her. When a boy from Grace’s school is killed by wolves, she interrupts the hunting party that forms, but not before wolf Sam is shot and, turned human by the injury, ends up bleeding on her back deck. Once they finally meet, their long-held interest in each other turns to romance, but staying together looks unlikely as Sam’s time as a wolf approaches.
Stiefvater offers a unique take on the werewolf mythology in this supernatural romance. Rather than changing with the full moon, her wolves change with the temperature: they are wolves in cold weather and humans in warm weather. The longer they are werewolves, the less frequently they change back and forth, eventually becoming a wolf for good. The temperature required to change varies, as does the length of time they have before losing their humanity for good, but in general the younger werewolves change with the seasons more often and have more time as humans ahead of them.
This has a couple of interesting repercussions. As humans, the werewolves need a caretaker who provides a home, food, clothes, and other necessities, which becomes more difficult as the older werewolves make the final change. (For obvious reasons, nobody lives with their original family.) As wolves, they face continuing problems of lean winters and people encroaching on the woods they live in. Neither of these problems have good solutions, and I think Stiefvater does a capable job showing how desperate the werewolves are becoming without letting it overwhelm the story (which is mostly a romance).
The major conflict is that Sam, despite being young, is fast losing his ability to change, and the coming winter marks his final transformation. He will never be human again. Most of the book’s tension comes from Sam’s struggle to stay human despite cold temperatures and the inevitability of the change.
Other conflicts are with Jack, the boy supposedly killed by the wolves but has actually become a werewolf himself, and with Shelby, one of the werewolf females. Both Jack and Shelby try to come between Grace and Sam for different reasons – Jack thinks Grace has a cure (she doesn’t) and Shelby wants Sam all to herself. Both of them are violent and a little crazed, though Jack comes off as more desperate then mentally unbalanced, like Shelby. Also, Beck, the leader of Sam’s werewolf family when they’re humans, does something to ensure the continued safety of the pack that seems morally wrong.
Overall, though, there isn’t a lot of conflict to the main storyline – the romance — because Grace and Sam have an almost perfect relationship. It’s believable but the sweetness doesn’t make for the most compelling reading for nearly 400 pages, and the other, more action-y plots are spread out too far. I found myself becoming bored and skimming a little too frequently. Though it’s nice to see a teen supernatural romance that doesn’t rely on the distant, brooding, mixed-signal-sending boy and love struck, all-forgiving girl for conflict. Sam is open and emotional and Grace is independent, practical, and kind of kick butt (not in the “knowing martial arts” kind of way, but the “saving herself from danger” kind of way). I had some issues with the ending but I don’t want to spoil, so if you’re curious shoot me an e-mail.
This book will appeal to fans of supernatural romance and werewolves. I liked it enough to read Linger, the sequel, when it comes out.