Title: Bad Blood (Bad Blood #1) by Debra Doyle & James Macdonald
Summary: It started with a group of teenagers telling scary stories around a campfire. No one believed Jay’s wild tale of moonlight and werewolves. They thought he was kidding when he said, “By morning, you’ll all be dead.” But Valerie saw the strange hunger in the boy’s eyes – and that night, she felt the sharp touch of his fangs…
Tagline: The moon is full. Beware the beast.
As Dove requested, I’ve updated my template, because we now apparently call the Bad Guys Muffin Man. Hey, it makes as much sense as most Point Horrors. There’s no actual hidden Muffin Man in this story.
I love this damn book so, so much. Dove read it when she was younger, and then lost it for years. It took us ages to finally track down the title, and then I read it for the first time and fell in love. With it, with the entire trilogy. Here’s hoping I can manage an entertaining recap when I adore a book this much.
[Dove: As Wing said, I bought the sequel to this from a bargain bookstore, and I think a friend “borrowed” it and it never came back. Knowing how much Wing loves werewolf books, I told her about it, hoping she’d know who it was by. She didn’t. So every so often, at the end of a writing session, we’d devote about an hour to searching for it, and after so many years, Wing found it. And it’s just as awesome as it was back then.]
NOTE: This recap will be without book cover and Dove’s comments for awhile on Monday morning. With the holidays, I didn’t finish this until too late for her to comment before it went live.
We start with a group of teens on a camping trip with the Sunset Hills Junior High Ecology Club. This is a great time for a roll call, since all the main players are in the same place at the same time.
Val: Our main character, a smart, feisty, loyal, brave, fucking amazing girl. I kind of adore her, if you can’t already tell. She becomes a werewolf in just a few pages. She is my faaaaaaavorite. She is an excellent narrator, too, with a sharp, dry humor to her narration that makes me grin.
Freddie: One of Val’s BFFs, he’s super scientist and super skeptical and super smart, with a sort of flat sense of humor.
Diana: Good friend to Val, rich parents, sharp fear when it comes to werewolves.
Bill: Super into movies, watches pretty much all the movies that come out in the theater and all the old ones on VHS. (Oh, god, so dated.)
Greg: Spends most of his time playing with the school band or studying because he wants to be pre-med when he goes to college. Not known for taking risks.
Jay: Over the past year, he put on muscles the other boys don’t yet have, and he likes to rub it in everyone’s faces. Back in fourth grade, Val caught him throwing rocks at a stray kitten, and has hated him ever since. Good on you, Val.
Mrs Rosa Castillo: Their faculty sponsor and science teacher. Kind of delightful, though we don’t see much of her. Great teacher, but so tiny she gets mistaken for a student.
Mr Castillo: Their other trip chaperone, also pretty delightful, though again, we don’t see much of him. He teaches physics at the high school. He’s not big or loud, but nobody messes with him, not even the tough kids that scare other teachers.
The day everything started, Freddie and I had been gathering firewood most of the afternoon.
I love this opening line. It’s a mundane activity, but it builds a nice bit of tension, and is a great introduction to Val’s voice. (Oh, god, I am going to spend this entire reap gushing about how much I love her, aren’t I?)
Anyway, they’re a week into their big backpacking and camping trip, and that night, they’re having a bonfire to celebrate reaching the halfway mark. That is a long camping trip for a school trip! It does sound like fun, though. Problem is, that afternoon they hiked into a part of the forest that had been burned about 20 years ago by a fire, and the second growth hadn’t moved past the underbrush and sapling stage, so they are struggling to find enough sticks and kindling for a big fire. This is exacerbated by Mr Castillo believing the only good wood pile is as tall as the person who gathered it, which is hilarious and charming at the same time.
Freddie and Val joke about what would happen if Mr Castillo was in charge of building the ark, and how no matter how large the ark was, there’s no actual plausible way all the animals would fit on it, and how Freddie can’t recognise a joke when she tells it to him.
(Mr and Mrs Castillo are sleeping under a pair of ponchos strung between two trees as their tent, and Val says that because Mrs Castillo doesn’t much mind, it “probably proves that love is blind, or at least doesn’t freeze too easily.” I love you, Val.)
Night comes early on the mountains, and after dinner, the sun is gone. They build up their cooking fire into a gorgeous bonfire and tell scary stories around it. I love the hell out of this book already and we haven’t even gotten to the main plot yet.
Mr Castillo told a story about a golden arm, which Val first heard back in third grade. I actually don’t know this one off the top of my head, but when I looked it up, realised I know a bunch of variations on it, but not the apparent original: The Golden Arm. After, the Castillos head to their Poncho Palace, and the rest tell stories: the hitchhiker, the guy with the hook for the hand, the baby-sitter with the calls coming inside the house, all the fun ones.
Jay is the only one who hasn’t told a story, and Greg prompts him to go next. Jay says he doesn’t know any of the kinds of stories they know, and gives them a nasty grin, but when they keep pushing, he says they won’t like the one he’s going to tell.
He then spins a story that, he claims, is true, and it’s happening to him now, not his grandfather or a friend of a cousin or some tenuous connection like that. When he had his appendix out in sixth grade, he needed a blood transfusion, which is pretty standard, but when he got home, he healed fast, and even the scar from his operation went away. Then he realised he wasn’t getting hurt anymore, not even a scratch, and started having dreams during the full moon, dreams of changing into a fierce, powerful thing that ran through the night. He’d wake up with dirty under his fingernails, and sometimes blood — but he always thought it just a dream.
This past full moon, though, he realised it was true; he shifts under the moon, and nothing can hurt him, not even bullets; it’s like being immortal, like having the power of life and death, and he thinks it’s the best thing in the world.
(WEREWOLF, WEREWOLF, WEREWOLF.)
He used it that month, too; there were news reports on TV about a jogger torn up by a wild animal in the middle of town, and the police never figured out what happened. But Jay knows. Because it is him.
His blood donor must have been a werewolf, and someday he plans to donate blood himself, just to pass the favor along. But first he’s going to disappear, because high school isn’t the place for a manhunter. (WEREWOLF WEREWOLF WEREWOLF WEREWOLF WEREWOLF OH MY GOD WEREWOLF I AM SO HAPPY.)
Tomorrow night is the full moon, and by morning, they’ll just be another group of backpackers who got careless and lost and never came back out of the woods. He’ll be gone before the rangers find the pieces.
Diana tells him the story isn’t funny, and he grins, says he scared them by the end. Val blows him off, and she and Diana go off to bed while the boys argue about whose turn it is to take fire watch. Diana is shaken by the story, but even more, worried that Jay believes it is true. Val writes that off as him being crazy (oh, Val, don’t make me hate you after I love you so much!), and tells her to sleep. But Val herself doesn’t sleep for a long, long time.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1 (+1) (Essentially, “crazy” is a blanket term for a bad person with no qualms about killing anyone and everyone. Often because they are “crazy”. Because that’s how mental health works.)
The next morning, Val talks to Freddie about the story, and he says “if making a werewolf is that easy, why aren’t we up to our armpits in werewhelps?” which is actually pretty funny. He doesn’t believe in werewolf stuff, but he does think that Diana’s right, and Jay did sound like he believed it, which is worrisome. They don’t know what to do about it, though, because how ridiculous would it be to talk to the Castillos about Jay scaring them with a story? Super ridiculous.
Val is worried because her psychiatrist dad has book after book full of people going crazy and doing awful things. FUUUUCK YOU VAL. FUCK YOU AUTHORS. Read the actual stats. People with mental illness are significantly more likely to be hurt themselves than to hurt someone else, FUCK.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1001 (+1000)
(It is amazing how much I love this book despite this thread of crazy = dangerous.)
That night after dinner, Freddie takes first shift as fire watcher, and Val volunteers for the second. She tries to get some sleep before her shift, but she can’t, and then the moon comes up full and bright. (WEREWOOOOOOOOOOOOOLF.) She watches Freddie whittle a stick with his Swiss Army knife, and finally gives up on sleep and goes to sit with him. They sit in silence for awhile, Freddie whittling, Val fiddling with her silver bracelet (it was her grandmother’s bracelet, and she wears it everywhere even though it is nice; Val can’t see the point of owning something she doesn’t wear, and this is but one reason I love Val).
Freddie finishes whittling, and Val tells him he can go to bed because she’s ready for the next shift, but he is reluctant. He admits he’s worried about Jay, which she interprets as scared, and tells him he could unzip the tent and open it carefully with his stick. Freddie doesn’t want anyone to laugh at him for being scared, so Val offers to be his cover.
They look into the tent, and for a second, everything is quiet and calm — and then a big grey wolf lunges at them, gets tangled into the mosquito netting and nylon, and tries to get at them while Freddie fends it off with the stick.
Finally, it gets free and lunges into the underbrush, and Val’s screams bring everyone else to them. Mrs Castillo carries a flashlight, and Mr Castillo a big survival knife. They tell the adults everything, and no one questions them; in fact, Mr Castillo says they should have told him that the night before. Val is skeptical that he would have believed them without the proof of the claw marks in the dirt, but he says it never pays to ignore warnings.
GEE, I WONDER IF HE IS ALSO A WEREWOLF.
They try to figure out what to do, and no one is particularly helpful until Mr Castillo tells them to build up fires to give them a perimeter they can hold until morning. Four big fires, in a square, with everyone inside. Mr Castillo retrieves his pack from the Poncho Palace, but doesn’t get attacked while he goes. Then he surprises everyone when he pulls out a gun, the civilian version of the M-16, a CAR-15, no full automatic and a shorter barrel. Freddie is the only one of them who has done any shooting, so he ends up with the gun while Mr Castillo works on building up the fires.
Val goes back to fire watch, but no one else really sleeps, of course. Eventually, Mr Castillo tells them a little about his time in Vietnam, where he was with the Rangers; on his second tour, one of his guys told him that they were going to get hit that night and bunch of people were going to die. Mr Castillo ignored him, because who can see the future, right? But turns out he was right about everything, even the names of the guys who were killed — including his own.
Val gets Diana to take the next watch, and tries to sleep; she manages to doze a bit, and when she wakes up, the full moon is still high in the sky, but one of the fires is burning low. Diana and Mrs Castillo go to build it up, and wolf!Jay attacks them. He hits Mrs Castillo, knocks her over, but then Diana beats him off with a burning stick from the fire. Mr Castillo fires at him with his rifle, but either misses or it does nothing to stop wolf!Jay, and then mutters something in Spanish, and Mrs Castillo doesn’t even try to get up.
(How much do I love that there is some actual diversity in this damn book? SO MUCH.)
Mr Castillo goes over to check on her, and then calls Greg over to keep watch (he has first aid training), because she seems to have landed wrong on a rock; Greg is to keep her warm and awake, just go by the book and hang on until morning. Mr Castillo then takes off with the rifle, but not before putting Val in charge of the camp while he goes hunting, even though his bullets aren’t actually silver bullets. They’ll still slow wolf!Jay down, and that’s all he needs. (BECAUSE HE IS ALSO A WEREWOLF.)
Val is nervous and afraid, but puts them back on fire watches, and tells them to keep the flames higher. This goes okay for awhile, until Freddie stops her in the middle of her pacing to say that their firewood isn’t going to last all night. Val decides they’ll keep up the fire closest to Mrs Castillo because they can’t move her anyway, and let the other three die down. I might have tried to keep two going, just for a bit more of a perimeter, but obviously I don’t know exactly how much wood is left, so this could be a solid enough plan.
A bit later, the rifle goes off in the woods, over and over, and then there is crashing in the underbrush — and silence. They’re all frozen, terrified, waiting, and Val is begging — something, god, the universe, luck — for it to be over, and then a wolf howls.
Val realises they can’t just wait out the night, they need to come up with a plan, and knows that Bill is the one to ask for advice because he’s seen every crummy horror movie ever made. I am dying with delight over this. [Dove: I know, right? I really have nothing to say so far, because this book is so much fun.]
Bill says they don’t have silver bullets, garlic, or wolfsbane, so all they have left is the old stake the werewolf through the heart. That last part, while usually for vampires in current mythology, has sometimes been used for werewolves, too. The garlic part is new to me, though. Bill says they have to trap him first, though; Val doesn’t know about killing him, but does think a trap would be good, to hold him in place until sunrise. They’re trying to figure out if anyone has any rope when Greg calls Val over because he’s seen wolf!Jay out in the bushes, red eyes glowing in the dark.
Mrs Castillo conveniently speaks up long enough to say she has parachute cord in her pack, but that uses up most of her strength, and Greg thinks she’s going into shock.
My, that’s awfully convenient: 1 (+1) (“Oh, gee! You mean Billy-Bob has the exact information we need? What are the odds?”)
Not completely convenient, though, because her pack is still over by Poncho Palace, outside of the fall of firelight and away from the main camp, because they like their privacy. She tells Bill and Freddie to get big sticks for clubs and go with her. Freddie grabs the pack, and they hurry back toward the fire, but Val sees a red-eyed shadow moving parallel to them. They make it back unharmed — for now — and set about building a trap. Despite the fact that Bill has only learned this from movies, he builds it like he’s been making them his whole life, which is pretty cool. While they build, wolf!Jay lingers, and Val worries that a wolf that used to be a human is smart enough to spot a trap, but there’s not much else she can do.
The trap: he fills two backpacks with heavy rocks, then ties the rope to the bags and hauls them into the air; the trap is then set with a forked sticks and some other sticks to hold it in place, and finally a big noose on the ground. Wolf!Jay has to step into the noose, hit the trigger, loose the rope, and the heavy backpacks slam down, dragging the wolf into the air. It’s a pretty good trap, so long as they can get wolf!Jay into it in the first place; Freddie seems to be the only one who notices that at first. Val (who mentally calls herself Girl Wonder and charms the hell out of me), sets herself up as bait.
She waits, terrified and shaking, for a long, long, long time, but as soon as she starts to relax, a big wolf starts moving out in the underbrush. He stares at her for awhile, and she realises the eyes aren’t really red, but a pale, almost yellow, green.
Now wait a fucking minute. How the hell do you confuse pale green with glowing red — unless there is more than one wolf. Oh, I bet you’re surprised by that, aren’t you? No one ever would have guessed there might be a second werewolf in the group. Val certainly didn’t, even with the weirdness of those eye colors.
Just as the first wolf hits the trap, a smaller wolf attacks Val. Val punches at the smaller wolf until she can cut the trap fre, and the big wolf hits the small wolf “like an express train hitting a pickup” which is pretty damn impressive. Their fight doesn’t take long at all, and the big wolf pins the smaller one belly-up like a dogfight. The big wolf then backs away and the smaller wolf turns into Jay, naked and unconscious.
Mr Castillo comes back after he’s shifted to human, which, surprise, right? (WERWOOOOOOOOOLVES.) Val isn’t terrible surprised at this point, but she only figured it out when she realised there were two wolves. Plus she’s distracted by the puncture wounds on her left arm that could have come from falling on rocks, but didn’t.
VAL’S GONNA BE A WEREWOLF! VAL’S GONNA BE A WEREWOLF!
(Oh, god, I am far too delighted by this book, this recap is taking so many words.)
Freddie leads the others to come see what happened (except for Greg, who is still keeping watch over Mrs Castillo), and he snaps at Mr Castillo, demanding to know where he was when they needed him. That is the last straw for Val, whose anger has been building since she had to walk out into darkness alone; she is cold and calm when she tells Freddie that he could hear everything, he thought she was getting killed, and he still waited until the sun was all the way up before he came to check. Fair point to Val.
Mr Castillo says he was stalking the wolf all night, keeping it away from the camp as much as possible; everyone but Freddie believes him, and that just makes Val angrier. She says that he drove wolf!Jay into the trap just before sunrise, which is more than anyone else did. Mr Castillo then says he needs to get the forest rangers for help, but first they have to get their stories together. No werewolf, of course, Diana says, and everyone agrees, because Val also reminds them that if they start talking about werewolves, they’ll all get shuffled off for psychological counseling.
Val goes with Mr Castillo to get the rangers, because, of course, she has some questions for him. He tells her that Mrs Castillo has always known, and it has been worth it to him, though he was terrified to tell her. There are many ways to become a werewolf, apparently, and though he had never heard about a blood transfusion doing it before Jay, it is possible. She asks what happened to him, and he tells her that’s not really a question to ask a werewolf, but then he tells her anyway, with the man who had the vision. His grandmother was a bruja, a witch, a woman with power, and when Mr Castillo ignored her grandson’s warning, she turned him into a werewolf. Val finally asks if being bitten would do it, and Mr Castillo confirms there is a chance she’s a werewolf now too. She’ll know if the bite marks fade in only a few days and leave no scars. And if she is, she’ll just have to go on living the best way she can.
She asks if she’ll go crazy and start killing people, and damn it, Val, stop. Damn it, authors, stop. It’s not going crazy. It’s losing control, maybe, except that Jay specifically chose to kill, so it’s not even losing control so much as it is choosing to become a killer. No crazy = dangerous about it. Fuck off with that damaging bullshit.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 2001 (+1000)
Mr Castillo says that is unlikely anyway, and Jay was what he was even before he became a lycanthrope, which is the real name for what they are. Val likes that a lot more than werewolf. They talk about how being a lycanthrope is a lot like being an ordinary person, you live with the condition, you learn to control when and where you change, you’re no longer driven by the full moon. Usually, the worst things get is awkward, not dangerous.
The rangers send a helicopter to lift out Mrs Castillo and a bus to meet the rest of them at the nearest roadhead. Mr Castillo talks to Jay when he takes him clothes, and Jay comes out subdued — right up until he looks at Val, and she can tell from his expression that he knows exactly who planned the trap, set the ambush, and cut Mr Castillo free. His rage at her is immense, and she tries to ignore him.
On the hike back down to the road, Diana finally asks if she’s okay, and Val snaps at her for taking so long to ask. Val is feeling nasty and sharp, and doesn’t particularly like herself that morning.
The bus takes them to a gas station where they wait for their parents to come get them. Val’s is the first to show up, and he’s worried about her, of course, even cancelled appointments with his patients so he could come get her. He offers to listen if she wants to talk, but she really doesn’t, and he lets it go. She sleeps all the way home, then cleans up as soon as they get there, herself and her clothes. She devours two frozen dinners, and is still hungry, but doesn’t dare eat anything else or her father will think that is a symptom of something terrible happening to her in the woods.
She checks the bite, and all that is left is a neat line of pink dots. By morning, even that is gone.
VAL’S A WEREWOLF! VAL IS A FUCKING WEREWOLF AND I AM THRILLED!
Her dad has already gone to work, so she fixes herself a giant breakfast, then tries to call the Castillos, and then panic sets in. She pushes it back, and decides to do a lot of research because, as Mrs Castillo says, knowledge is power, and the more you have, the less you have to be afraid.
She takes the bus to the library, and first thing she does is check out Jay’s story that his first victim was jogger. Sure enough, it’s there, and he apparently was telling the truth. That doesn’t make her feel much better, so then she goes to find a bunch of books about lycanthropy, which is amazing to me that the library has that many books on the topic, but cool.
Unfortunately, someone else has already checked them out. The librarian, of course, can’t tell her who did it (privacy protection, yo!), but will put them on hold for her when the come back.
While Val is waiting for the bus home, Diana pulls up in her father’s glossy black Mercedes. She was headed to Val’s house when she saw her, because everyone (but Jay) is meeting at West Side Pizza. Val wonders, without saying anything, who has already guessed the truth, and she’s not sure if it’s Diana or not. When they arrive, it turns out Freddie isn’t there yet, either, but he’s just running late; Val decides she’s not still angry at him after the other night. The kitchen door is open for a moment, and a plethora of good smells come out, nearly overwhelming Val. I love werewolf details like this.
They order an extra large pizza, no anchovies, Cokes for everyone, and ice water because Val is chugging ice water. Another cloud of cooking smells comes out, but it’s not so pleasant this time. Freddie arrives just as the pizza does, and he won’t look at Val, which makes her realise that even if she’s not mad at him anymore, that doesn’t mean he’s not mad at her.
Another burst of scent from the kitchen, and this time it smells like “the dishwasher had overflowed in there — soggy and halfway gone to rotten, with one particular bad sweetish smell”. She finally takes a piece of pizza, but she can’t get rid of that sweetish smell that disgusts her so much; she manages to finish the slice of pizza, but not even guzzling water helps.
Finally they start talking about what happened on the camping trip, and what’s happen with Jay, which is pretty much nothing. In the middle of it, Val gets another whiff of that sweet scent, and has to go to the bathroom to vomit. Diana comes to check on her, and she waves it off as too much olive oil and garlic in the pizza — and then she figures out what’s going on. Garlic makes werewolves sick, and sure enough, she is definitely turned into a werewolf.
Time passes, and Val deals with the changes: she’s always hungry and thirsty, but not gaining weight; no garlic, no silver bracelet, because it caused a blistery rash underneath the metal band; and her obsession with the fact that maybe she’s growing a little less human with each bite of food, but she can’t curb her appetite.
Her dad catches her raiding the fridge one night right before school starts, and he sits her down to talk to her; he says she’s always eating and she keeps looking at the calendar and — OH SHIT HE THINKS SHE’S PREGNANT AFTER THAT CAMPING TRIP. [Dove: I love this detail to show that Dad really cares, and pays attention (and, presumably, is good at his job). Ah, PH writers this is show, not tell, and we love it.]
She reassures him that she’s not, and then kind of waves things off that she’s just nervous about starting high school, which will be a new building for her, and much larger than her previous school, and everything is changing, and she’s having trouble with it. That’s a pretty good lie without actually lying.
School starts when she’s two weeks out from the next full moon; thirteen days and nights of passing for normal, and then on night fourteen, the full moon rises. I AM SO FUCKING EXCITED, YOU GUYS.
She keeps thinking about Jay, and how he looked, and how it will feel to change like that. (And, more practically, realises that she will need to leave the window open and the screen loose for her to get out of the house on that night.)
Val can’t sleep for a long time, and then oversleeps in the morning, and has to eat a small breakfast on the way to school; the toaster-waffle and milk barely dents her hunger. She has about a 20 minute bus ride to school, and it is chaos when she arrives; all three junior highs send their students to the same high school, so a huge number of strangers to her just in her own grade, much less the others.
(Her classes: PE, biology, beginning Spanish, accelerated geometry, no driver’s ed until next summer.)
She makes it to homeroom with Ms Phelps, who has a sour expression and gives out their locker assignments and locks. This seems like a pretty impractical way to manage things, but okay. She goes through some names before she reaches Jay, but he’s not in homeroom at all, and Val relaxes. When she finally gets her locker, she learns she is next to a water fountain, which gives her the chance to sate her thirst a little, if not her hunger.
Then they head to the auditorium for an assembly, and she starts finding her friends in the crowd, but doesn’t see Mr Castillo. It’s a pretty solidly high school experience, with the seniors starting a clapping rhythm and cheer, and eventually the juniors and sophomores joining in too. Their principal, Mr Reynolds, welcomes them to the high school, and Val tunes out most of his speech.
Val briefly gets to talk to Bill, and learns not only do none of them have classes together, but she’s not even in the same lunch period as the rest of her friends. She spends the rest of the morning collecting her textbooks, and then at lunch, she has to keep asking for more food, because the workers keep giving her small portions because she looks like such a short, tiny girl.
She finds a seat on her own, and then Jay sits down with her, because of course he does. Nice and creepy, that boy.
He threatens her a bit, tells her she still has two weeks before it’s too late to move out of town, and then says that she won’t see Mr Castillo around again to save her this time. His big lawyer dad got rid of Mr Castillo, and Val realises that she’s not sitting there feeling scared: she’s angry. She tells him to leave her alone and walks off, leaving him sitting at the table, laughing.
Freddie calls her Thursday night and asks her to get together with the old Ecology Club on either Friday or Saturday, but she says she’s too busy. He pushes, because they need to decide what to do about Jay, but she tells him there’s nothing he can do. It’s an awkward conversation, and her dad overhears it, so after, she then has to talk to him about what’s wrong. She says that she’s just not feeling comfortable with the old gang anymore, even though she’s not sure why, and he gives her some decent advice about maintaining old friendships even while she makes new ones, but she’s mostly distracted by the fact she only has a week left until the full moon.
Jay shows up in homeroom every morning, and sits by her at lunch. They both have giant trays of food, and she expects watching him will kill her appetite, but it never does, and that actually scares her.
School is hard because of Jay, but the nights are worse, because her dad keeps sending out unspoken “do you want to tell me about it” signals, and she is having a hard time resisting them, even though she knows her dad won’t believe her.
The night of the full moon, Val is restless all day, and while she’s eating a snack of sliced roast beef, Bill calls to ask her to go see a sneak preview at the mall. Unfortunately, she can’t, and she tells him that it’s not a good night for any of them to go out. He knows what she means, but he refuses to spend the rest of his life hiding because Jay is there. He also doesn’t think Jay can do much in the middle of town if he didn’t manage to hurt them in the woods; Val remembers the jogger in the middle of town (and also, he did manage to hurt one of them in the woods), but she knows Bill is too stubborn to listen. When they hang up, she can’t decide if she’s angry at him, or scared.
Diana calls next, and says they have to talk; she asks if Val knows what day it is, and Val blows it off as Thursday. They dance around the full moon for a minute, and then Diana actually calls Val out that they have to do something about Jay. Val snaps at her to put her silver necklaces on, and don’t expect Val to save her this time. Val is kind of being a jackass, but she’s also going through a lot of shit right now.
She hangs up on Diana, and tries to focus on her homework, but eventually gives up and makes a meatloaf for dinner. She’s starving, and can’t stop thinking about Jay, and feels like “clawing at [her] skin and howling.”
Have I mentioned lately how much I love this story, and Val as the narrator, and Val the werewolf? Because I do. A lot. A LOT A LOT.
After dinner, Val sets up the window so she can get out, and then dozes off for a nap. The moon wakes her, and there’s a delightful scene I am going to quote here:
The moonlight through the window woke me, hitting my face with a brightness like no daylight I’d ever seen. When I opened my eyes, the whole room seemed to be glowing, and the night air was filled with smells. One scent – a familiar one – came in through the cracks around the door.
Father, I named it, without hesitation. But there was something else about the smell – I wrinkled my brow, frowning. Afraid?
No, I thought. I couldn’t smell the presence of anything else in the house that might make him feel fear. Not afraid. Worried. About me?
I felt like laughing. Silly him. I’m fine. The curtains at my window stirred in the night wind, and more smells came in over the windowsill – fascinating smells that pulled at me like hands, urging me over to the window. I tried to stand up, but my pajamas had wrapped themselves around me while I slept, trapping me and holding me down. I pulled at the cloth with my hands, but my fingers didn’t want to obey me, and my arms kept moving in the wrong directions.
Finally I curled myself around until I could tear at the elastic waistband with my teeth. I jerked my head, and the pajama trousers tore loose with a noise of ripping cloth.
Good! I thought, and tore at the pajama top until it, too, hung in shreds around me. I shook myself, and the scraps flew away in all directions.
I rolled off the bed and hit the floor on four feet, not two. It’s happened, I thought, and felt a kind of shivery excitement rush through me. I’ve changed.
The smells of the night were all around me now, blotting out the worry smell of my father moving about somewhere inside the house. I looked again at the open window, and this time my muscles knew what to do. I went out the window in a long flat leap, knocking the screen away into the bushes below.
As soon as I hit the ground, I started running, heading for the hedge between our house and the O’Donnells’ next door. Their Irish setter, Fleabrain, howled as I went past, and then started barking. I heard the banging and crashing as Fleabrain tried to break down the door of the sun porch where he slept. He smelled like he wanted to come out and fight.
Stupid dog, I thought, and howled right back at him.
I LOVE THIS DAMN BOOK SO MUCH.
Wolf!Val runs and hunts and eats field mice, and it is wonderful, just absolutely wonderful. She enjoys being a wolf under the moon, and I am utterly charmed.
Eventually, she comes across a new smell, one that is familiar but leaves her feeling uneasy. She tries to focus on why it’s important, but her wolf thoughts keep slipping away from it; she follows the trail, but it is several hours old, and she never catches up with the thing in front of her. She does tell that it is hunting, and of course we, the readers, know it is wolf!Jay. The moon starts to set, she returns to her room, and falls asleep curled belly-down on the rug.
Her alarm clock wakes her the next morning, She realises she shredded her pajamas the night before, and left the window open for the rain to come in. There are muddy paw prints on the carpet and mud under her fingernails. She can’t even remember why she was so worried about her change; she had fun, and it was wonderful.
She cleans up, then goes to shower; in the background, she can hear her dad on the phone, but he often gets early morning phone calls from his patients, so she doesn’t think anything of it. While showering, she takes stock of how she feels now, and admits it feels good to be a lycanthrope. I love that the authors let her enjoy this, the power and the adventure of it. Too often werewolves are written as pathetic beasts (or, female werewolves in particular, sexually aggressive villains).
(Also, she now thinks in werewolf metaphors, like all her good thoughts tucking their tails between their legs and whimpering as they run off, which is cheesy as hell and utterly delightful.)
Her dad has terrible news to ruin her good mood, though; Bill was killed the night before, attacked by some sort of animal, per the police, wild dogs or maybe a pit bull trained for illegal fights. This hits Val hard, and of course she knows it was Jay. He’d pretty much said, that first day in the cafeteria, that he was coming for her with the full moon, but by the time he arrived, she’d been gone, running as a wolf herself. Bill was a second choice; he’d built the trap, and he was out at night.
Her dad tells her that he came to check on her after he got the call the night before, and her door was locked and she didn’t answer his knock; she can’t lie to him, she won’t lie to him, so she tells him that she wasn’t there, she went running because she needed to be outside for awhile.
Eventually, he tells her that he won’t ground her, but he wants her to tell him where she’s going and when she’ll be back the next time she needs to go running. She can’t tell him no, but she also knows that when the moon calls to her, she won’t manage not to go running.
Jay isn’t in homeroom, and her anger and worry carries her through until lunch. Despite everything, she’s still hungry. Even though the lunch is spaghetti and meatballs, there’s no garlic involved. She eats a ton of food, but it’s no longer interesting for her, because it has nothing as good as the fresh prey she took as a wolf.
Then Jay shows up, and there is a delightful, gross, creepy bit:
“That’s one,” he said, and grinned at me. “Only four more to go.”
Then, so help me, he bit into a heaping forkload of spaghetti, so that the thick red sauce stained his teeth and mouth and ran in bright scarlet streaks down his jaws and over his chin – and all the time it ran he kept on grinning.
She spends a lot of time thinking about Bill, and then realises that she’s going to have to get real good at being a wolf real fast if she wants to do something about Jay — and she knows she’s going to have to be the one to do it.
Val’s reserved books are finally back at the library, so the next day, she goes to pick them up, and spends the weekend studying about lycanthrope, but they end up not being much help. She then decides that books on real wolves might help more.
Bill’s funeral is Monday, and Jay attends. Val tries to ignore him, because she’s afraid she’ll end up baring her teeth and growling at him instead. She’s still afraid of him, but it’s starting to turn into rage. That worries her, but I say embrace the rage, Val. It will be great.
Diana catches up with Val after school, and convinces her to come talk to her about the situation with Jay. At Diana’s house, they take a snack up to her bedroom, she puts on some heavy metal to keep her mother from overhearing, and then she tells Val that Freddie the Mighty Hunter is planning on going wolf hunting.
Diana then flat tells her that she knows Val is a werewolf, and that wolf!Jay bit her. She calls Val something like Jay, but Val says if she really thought that, they wouldn’t be alone in the room, and Diana admits yes, that’s true, but Val is still different. [Dove: Again, I love this. Talk about pro-active characters all round. Most YA books have background characters doing nothing unless the lead needs them to.]
They talk a bit about what they can do, and what Freddie plans to do, and Val is worried about whether she can even fight Jay, because she remembers that Mr Castillo backed away from Jay and didn’t finish him after Jay bared his throat like a dog. She also worries whether Jay will pull back if she fights him.
Val worries a lot about what Jay will do under the next full moon:
Whose turn would it be next month? I wondered. Di, who lived in a house so big you couldn’t hear noises at one end of it if you were asleep at the other? Or Freddie the Mighty Hunter? Not even a stay-at-home-and-study type like Greg would be safe forever. He’d open the door to let the cat in, some bright moonlit night, only it wouldn’t be the cat waiting for him outside.
Jay keeps eating lunch with Val and pushing her buttons; when he tells her that he’s saving her for last, she asks him to meet her the night of the full moon, because she wants him as much as he wants her — and maybe more. It’s a nicely layered conversation to have in public, and I am a fan of Val’s sharpness and wit.
They agree to meet at the school in two weeks under the full moon, and now all Val has to do is figure out what to do about him then.
She and Diana talk often (Freddie is the one who checked out the library books, but Diana went to get them too; he shared the books with her at lunch), but they don’t come up with anything solid. Freddie has bought a bunch of junk silver, and his dad has bullet molds and the ability to reload used cartridges, so unsurprisingly, Freddie has now made silver bullets and is doing a lot of target practice.
Val doesn’t manage to talk to him until the day of the full moon, and she tells him not to go through with his plan. Before they can talk about it further, the teacher arrives and sends her on her way.
She goes home after school to get ready, and doesn’t expect her dad for awhile, but he’s waiting for her there. He wants to have a conversation with her that she promised him in the morning, but put off when she took off for school. She actually tells him that she’s a lycanthrope. It goes about as well as can be expected. He, of course, doesn’t believe her, even when she cuts her hand to show him how fast she heals (she cuts her hand open, and it closes right in front of them, which is freaky and awesome).
He calls in for help, because he thinks she’s crazy, and she takes off before he can get her institutionalized, because she knows she can’t stay in a hospital while her friends are being slaughtered. And also, you’ll shift, but don’t think about that part, I guess.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 2002 (+1)
Val ends up going back to the high school to wait for Jay and the moonrise. Greg is still there, practicing with the marching band on the field, and she slips into the building under the cover of the band. He asks if she’s planning something, and she isn’t super detailed, but lets him know that she is. He helps her get into the main building, even though he doesn’t think she’ll have a chance against Jay.
For awhile she hides in a bathroom, then she remembers her clothes were shredded last time, and so she needs to strip down. It’s almost too late before she realises that she’ll never get out of the bathroom after she’s shifted, because the door opens in, not out. If Jay finds her there, she’ll be cornered. If he doesn’t, he might give up and hunt other meat (i.e., her friends).
She barely manages to get her clothes into her locker before the change hits her. This time, she’s awake to feel her body (bones, muscles, nerves, and all) shifting and stretching and flexing. It doesn’t hurt, it’s “like turning to water and being totally helpless and vulnerable.”
Once she’s a wolf, she can follow that bad smell she caught the night Bill died; she recognises it as wolf!Jay, now, and takes off after it. The scent leads her on a merry chase down to the cafeteria; along the way, she smells another scent. This one is also familiar, but she doesn’t have enough of her human brain left to bring up a name.
In the cafeteria, she finally figures out that he’s backtracking to try to confuse her. She finds his clothes, and then follows the smell deeper into the corridors beneath the school, and that’s when he attacks. They fight and snarl, but eventually, her wolf tells her that he’s bigger and stronger and they need to run. She tries to think of a plan, but it’s hard while she’s in wolf shape. In time, she figures out she can lead Jay into one of the bathrooms and then slip out herself before the door closed, and then he would be trapped until sunrise, and her friends safe.
She is faster than he is, but can’t completely get away from him. They run back through the cafeteria, and she’s about to head up the stairs when that half-familiar scent comes again and a gunshot rings out; a slug ricochets off the wall and slams into her back. She hides, it turns out to be Freddie, of course, and then Jay attacks him. She fights Jay off, and someone hits both of the wolves with powdered garlic. Jay runs off, and Diana and Freddie discuss whether they really have Val this time.
They all try to get out of the school before the cops show up, but Val can’t walk because the silver bullet is still inside her. Freddie carries her out to Diana’s car, where Greg is waiting for them. Freddie puts her in the backseat, and after some talk, they decide to take her to her house and see if they can make her dad believe them. He’s not around when they get there, though, and Freddie decides they should go to his house instead, because his dad is good at patching up hurt animals, and they’ll figure out something to tell him once they arrive.
Freddie lives far out of town, and once there is no traffic on the road, they go around a curve and almost run over the wolf in the road that leaps at them. Wolf!Jay smashes into the windshield, making it buckle inward and rip away from the metal frame. Val is thrown into the front seat, then the back seat, and then sideways as they go into a spin and slam into a tree trunk.
Awesome. Dead car, few weapons, angry, injured werewolf outside, injured werewolf inside. This is going really well for them.
Freddie only has three silver bullets left, but he still goes off looking for wolf!Jay. Wolf!Val would like to object, but she doesn’t have a voice for it, or the strength, because the silver bullet still inside her is sapping her strength and energy.
Freddie shoots at something, comes back to the car. It was just shadows, he thinks. He keeps looking, keeps failing; Val can smell Jay’s scent, but it is heavy, damages, and she figures he’s healing so he can come and finish them before moonset.
Eventually Greg figures out that they have to get the silver bullet out of Val. Diana manages to get Val to nod and promise not to hurt them while they’re working on her, and then Greg works the bullet out of her, though he has to push it all the way out, he can’t reach it from near the entry wound.
Pretty much the second the bullet is out of her body, wolf!Val starts to heal; it’s a tingling, pins and needles feeling that isn’t quite pain, but isn’t anything else either. When it’s done, she’s hungry and thirsty, but growing stronger.
She figures out that wolf!Jay is hiding under the car, but by the time she can check, he’s gone. It’s super fucking creepy to think about the fact he was there all the while they were talking and searching for him and so, so vulnerable.
Wolf!Val is trying to tell them she’s found a scent when wolf!Jay attacks over the hood of the Mercedes. Freddie can’t get a shot at him before the wolves are fighting; this time, Jay is weaker than Val, and he runs away. Val wants to follow him, but she keeps herself from doing it. [Dove: And she snarks delightfully about how in Lassie, everyone understands dog-to-human talk, whereas in real life it’s a lot more complicated.]
Freddie and wolf!Val go off into the woods hunting, but the trail is already several minutes old because she had to work so hard to get Freddie’s attention and make him understand what she wanted.
While they’re hunting, wolf!Jay attacks at the car again; Diana and Greg hit him with the last of the garlic powder and manage to hit him once before he runs off. Wolf!Val is so upset and frustrated she wants to cry, but can’t; instead she howls into the night, and wolf!Jay howls back. And then, far, far away, another wolf howls too: a big old wolf, howling that it is coming, it is the master, it is coming. But it is very far away.
Gee, I wonder if Mr Castillo is back for the climax of the book.
Greg is literally in the middle of talking about how they can still survive the night, when wolf!Jay comes out of the bushes and rips out Greg’s throat.
Jesus, book. I did not expect such a visceral death scene in something like this. It’s wonderful, and terrible all at once. Wolf!Jay flees again, and now Diana is absolutely ready to kill him, though before she just wanted to stop him. She gets out highway flares and says they’re going for a walk. They’re just not going to stay at the car and let him pick them off one by one.
They don’t have enough flares to last the entire walk, but they keep going. Wolf!Jay paces them along the edge of the road; when he attacks, he goes straight for Diana. He knocks her down, but she has a fucking amazing moment here when she lights both the flares she has left, holds them up as an X in front of her throat, and slams the burning ends into his face. It’s glorious.
Freddie also manages to hit him with a bullet, though it’s not silver, so all it is going to do is slow him down a little. Wolf!Val is fighting him, too, but can’t manage to tear out his throat because he’s surrendered to her, and wolves don’t kill enemies that are given up, only humans do that.
Wolf!Mr Castillo and Val’s dad show up. Her dad has Mr Castillo’s .45 with silver bullets. Her dad can’t shoot wolf!Jay either, and he sets the gun down on the hood of the car.
Diana is furious, and refuses to let Jay get away with everything again, and we get a great paragraph:
She threw the burning flares down onto the road and grabbed the pistol. My dad must have known what she planned to do. He didn’t move to stop her, but I never want to see that expression on his face again – or the look on Di’s when she put the pistol to Jay’s head and pulled the trigger.
I love Diana so damn much!
Everything quickly wraps up after that: Val’s dad went to find Mr Castillo as soon as Val disappeared and somehow he convinced the dad that the story was real; the Castillos got jobs out of state; and Val’s dad is a charter member of the “shrinks don’t tell” association, which provides therapy for supernatural creatures. JESUS WHAT A FUCKING GLORIOUS IDEA. (And if you like it the way I do, check out Inhuman Condition on KindaTV [a Youtube channel that also does a great adaptation of Carmilla]. It’s a delightful show about therapy and supernatural creatures, including my favorite dude werewolf ever.)
They covered things up by putting Jay’s human body in the Mercedes and setting it on fire; Greg ends up being another bitten and mauled body in the park. Freddie and Val keep going to the same high school, but Diana is sent off to private school. Diana’s shrink doesn’t know about werewolves. Val’s does. Val’s dad calls them the “ultimate closeted minority”, but Val has a life to live, and doesn’t want to go into lycanthrope politics. At least not for a few years.
And that’s the end to a super satisfying story, though the whole “ultimate closeted minority” is also a thing that doesn’t need to be included. Supernatural creatures as metaphors for actual minorities can work, but can also go south real quick, and it wasn’t handled here enough to be done well. It definitely did not need to be popped in at the end of the book for no reason.
Despite my rage over the way everyone throws around “crazy = dangers”, I love the hell out of this book. The characters are great, the writing is often fantastic, and the story is damn entertaining. I can’t wait to recap the next two in the trilogy, and I wish these authors had written a hundred more werewolf books.
[Dove: And further, how amazing is it that a book I read in the 90s actually stood the test of time. This site is pretty much dedicated to proving we all have nostalgia goggles for this genre. And here we are, having a fun romp through the 90s with wolves. I love-love-love this series.]
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 2002
My, that’s awfully convenient: 1