Note: I received an electronic copy of Sinner from the publisher, through NetGalley, for review consideration.
Coming down from a book hangover after reading The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves was tricky. As of this writing, I think I am mostly okay; I just need to really figure out what my next read is going to be. Alternating Maggie Stiefvater books with unreviewable academic texts is probably not a sustainable direction for the blog (though very fun for me).
Anyway, part of my hangover recovery process was binge-reading The Lesser Works, i.e., Shiver, Linger, and Forever, which are about a girl who falls in love with a wolf. (Luckily for her mental health, the wolf turns out to be a person.) I wasn’t terribly interested in Sam and Grace, but I quite liked the newly made werewolf who shows up in Linger, a drug-addicted suicidal musician called Cole, and I quite liked Grace’s angry friend Isabel, who got impatient when anybody acted wistful and accomplished many helpful deeds in an extremely angry way. Sinner is about them.
Still a werewolf, but generally able — for reasons that aren’t terribly interesting or important — to hang onto his human form, Cole has come to L.A. after Isabel. He’s also there to record a comeback album and be part of a reality show about recording the album, which he hopes will pay him well enough to save him the financial necessity of going on tour, which he’s leary of doing as an addict and also as a werewolf. Isabel is working in a store that pays her not to give a damn and living with her mother and her meek younger cousin Sofia. She is furious with whoever happens to be around, which for much of this book means Cole, about whom she has very very mixed feelings.
I only knew that my heart was galloping so fast that my fingers were numb. Logically, I knew it was just from surprise [at seeing Cole], but I didn’t know if it was like Surprise, here is a cake or Surprise, you’ve had a stroke.
I love reading about angry women. I love it. See also The Woman Upstairs (this is possibly the only Maggie Stiefvater–Claire Messud comparison you will read today).
Unlike Shiver and Linger and Forever, which go into fairly deep detail about the mechanics of being a werewolf, Sinner is light on the supernatural elements. You could swap out Cole’s changing into a werewolf in his bathroom to doing drugs in his bathroom, and the story would carry on in just about exactly the same way. It’s more of a straight romance, as well as a love letter to Los Angeles. Isabel and Cole are each damaged in their own right, and Cole in particular represents aspects of Isabel that she wants to put behind her (the messy lives of the werewolves, the loss of her brother). They are both people who want to get away from who they have been, and be some better version of themselves, and it’s not at all clear that that’s something they can accomplish together.
Though I wouldn’t put this on nearly the same level as The Raven Boys, Stiefvater’s writing has not stopped being wonderful. She’s clever and funny, and she’s also brilliant at producing simple, evocative descriptions that make her settings and characters pop. Like this:
He generally appeared famous and not true and not really present in any given moment. There was always a dissonance between him and his surroundings, as if he were being smoothly and handsomely projected from a distant location.
But I knew Isabel, and I knew that every single one of her emotions looked like anger from the outside.
Plus, sexual agency! I appreciated this in Shiver as well — teenagers have sex, and Stiefvater isn’t wringing her hands over it. I’m not sure exactly how to phrase this, but basically: Before I had sex for the first time, I had conceived of it as a much bigger deal than it was in some ways, and a much smaller deal than it was in other ways. I think Stiefvater does well here, and in Shiver, at writing about the ways in which sex is and is not actually a big deal in real life.
If you haven’t read the Raven Cycle books yet, go do that; but if you have and you’re just counting down days on your calendar until Blue Lily, Lily Blue, Sinner is a good book to while the time away. I should have maybe read it more slowly, actually. Now I am right back where I was before. Oh when will it be October?