- Age Range: 9 - 12 years
- Grade Level: 4 - 7
- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (July 26, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1481444808
- ISBN-13: 978-1481444804
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 43 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #187,132 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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This Is Not a Werewolf Story Hardcover – July 26, 2016
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From School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—On a small island off the coast of Seattle, Raul attends an alternative boarding school and guards a precious secret. He shape-shifts into a wolf every weekend. His abilities have been unlocked by the magic of the woods, where an abandoned lighthouse serves as the apex of his power. When a threatening cougar shatters the isolated safety of the woods, Raul must hurry to unravel the mystery of his mother's past, the magic of the woods, and the identity of the predator. Told in Raul's voice, the mystery will quickly consume readers as the confused and increasingly anxious narrator navigates the normal social pressures of school while working to uncover the truth without involving untrustworthy teachers and friends. From the cruel gym teacher to the absentminded principal, the adult characters transcend mere cliché as their secrets reveal intense pasts and powers. This is ultimately a story of belonging, and readers will feel for Raul as he tries to find his place among peers and build himself a family. Heartfelt, enigmatic, and ethereal, Evans's excellent debut novel takes readers on a roller coaster of emotion and keeps them guessing the whole way through. Based in part on the 12th-century French work Bisclarvet, this is a modern story with a fairy-tale atmosphere. VERDICT Fans of mystery and fantasy will enjoy this unique yet familiar selection.—Mariah Manley, Salt Lake City Public Library
“This is a novel about commitments, and about mystery, and about our deepest identities—which is to say, this is a novel about love. In trying to discover who he is, Raul finds that the greatest discoveries are those of the heart, human and otherwise. It is a journey that every reader needs to go on, and how splendid to find a book that gives such companions to walk with along the way.” (Gary Schmidt, Newbery Honor-winning author of The Wednesday Wars)
“Raul’s wry, likable voice elevates this debut, and Evans’ depictions of the shifting natures of tween friendship remain firmly grounded even as the narrative becomes more fantastical. A cut above.” (Booklist, starred review)
“Mystery and suspense abound in Evans’s debut novel . . . Raul is an insightful, introspective youth, and Evans weaves a compelling story from his point of view, bolstered by a strong supporting cast.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Heartfelt, enigmatic, and ethereal, Evans’s excellent debut novel takes readers on a roller coaster of emotion and keeps them guessing the whole way through.” (School Library Journal)
"Raul’s story of courage in the face of bullying and life-threatening danger in an easy read will appeal to readers of suspense and adventure tales." (School Library Connection)
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Rarely has familial loyalty paid off so quickly or so strong (especially in my family...). I've been reading fantasy my entire life, and reading it to my children for years now also. This book is, quite simply, amazing. The main deficiency is that there isn't enough of it. It is, of course, a children's book, and the writing style reflects this: Passages are short, and the heavier material is interspersed with lots of humor - some relatively high-brow for a children's book, but also a lot of "gross!" stuff clearly intended to appeal to a nine- or ten-year-old boy (but also getting hearty chuckles from my ten-year-old girls). Despite not being the intended audience, I found myself having trouble putting it down - and I was exceedingly eager to share it with my children once I had devoured it.
The best point of comparison (and contrast) is Harry Potter, as both novels are stories of boys from broken families at a boarding school who experience something magical in their everyday lives. Also, many people who will enjoy "This is Not a Werewolf Story" will already be fans of HP, making it a good place to start. The similarity mostly ends here, though.
While HP is epic magic, TiNaWS is more subtle. It's multiple chapters before you can confirm that something literally magical is even happening. Where HP leads to struggles against a great black-and-white evil, TiNaWS is content to stay closer to the everyday, and Raul has to sort through a pile of grey to uncover what is good, what is evil, and what is merely tragic. While HP deals with a comically exaggerated pettiness in his broken family, Raul copes with a much more realistic, grittier type of family dysfunction that may hit close to home for those who have experienced something similar. And yet, for all the grit and realism of TiNaWS, there are many points which have left all of my children laughing heartily - more, even, than HP, which rarely lacked for comic relief. Finally, the writing style is very different from HP - more literature, like Lois Lowry (The GIver, Number the Stars) than Rowling's relatively "pop writing" style.
While children will appreciate the magic, heart and humor of the story, parents will appreciate the aspect of TiNaWS that really sets it apart from HP: The educational elements. The language is rich, and the children in the story stretch their vocabularies with a realistic deliberate effort, eagerly defining the words they are most proud of to anyone that will listen. From interesting codes to carving fishing poles to a willingness to research lighthouses to the importance of colors in Native American art, the kids at the boarding school display a keen interest in learning and applying what they learn in their everyday lives. Even the "bully" is surprisingly familiar with pop-culture depictions of the Mafia. The footnote in the back of the book explains the inspiration for the plot, in language that remains easy-to-read for children, and directs readers to The Gutenberg Project - a bit of academic encouragement that could open doors for a few ambitious readers.
Of course, edutainment often comes at a cost. Often it can interfere with the flow and "fun" of the story. Rather than share my own opinion on whether this has happened here, I asked my children for a vote. We read the entire series of Harry Potter recently, finishing it last June - and my kids loved it so much that they decided to dress as the characters for Halloween this year. I asked them for a vote as to which they liked better. Note that we are only 3/4ths of the way through reading TiNaWS as a family, so it's not entirely a fair vote since the ending is the best part. Even without having heard the best part yet, the vote from 4 kids was split. In other words, 3/4ths of the way through, and my kids already consider this novel comparable to J. K. Rowling's masterpiece. I asked which was funnier, and TiNaWS won that vote easily - impressive, given the heavy themes of coping in the face of abandonment and betrayal by loved ones. I'll update this again once we've finished the book - but I couldn't wait any longer to share how much we are all enjoying this book.
Those heavy themes, to be fair, may give some parents pause. You may want to read these books first before sharing with a sensitive child, as parental abandonment, child abuse, child neglect, violence, and aggression are all things Raul sees and must respond to. Guns have a place in this story, and willingness to kill - for love, hate, or selfishness - is another heavy theme that is explored. Parents may want to leave time after reading to discuss some of the events with their children, and help them process what Raul sees and experiences.
I would also encourage foster parents and maybe even adopted parents to pre-read, as Raul gets a specific kind of happy-ever-after that not all children from broken families can have. Accepting the loss of a "normal" (biological) family can be hard, and it might be good to delay this book if a child is currently struggling to accept that possibility in their own life. At the same time, Raul's very realistic struggles and observations may be very helpful to a child who feels like no one else can understand what they are going through. Raul also models accepting care and nurturing from people other than his parents without losing his love for his parents. This is an aspect of the story that hit home for me, personally, in fact. True, it's been a decade and a half since I had a "legal guardian" - but even as an adult, it was cathartic to read Raul's reflections on troubled relationships between parents and children and recognize the similarity of some thoughts I had while going through that phase of my life so many years ago.
The one weakness that I really noticed is that there was just one named girl among the children who were Raul's peers, and she followed many of the standard tropes, almost matching Harry Potter's Hermione in many ways: The "exceptional" girl who is super-intelligent, the "heart" of the team, and of course the love interest. I would have liked to have seen a few other girls at the school in the background, though there is a fair point that Raul, as a boy, spent a lot of time mostly around other boys. Still, it would have been nice to have had some contrast to Mary Anne among the children, just to show that girls don't have to be exceptional or love interests or an authority figure before they are worth talking about. The teachers seemed more thought-out in terms of gender dynamics, with a blend of men and women, who themselves had a blend of stereotypical masculine and feminine traits (and all of whom were distinctly quirky).
You may notice that I'm not talking about magic at all here despite comparing to Harry Potter, nor am I sharing any significant pieces of the plot. That is very deliberate, as Evans' slow disclosure of Raul's mysterious world is a literary treat that I simply will not take away from you. While the root of the story is an old fairy-tale classic - a similar story is told at one point in Jim Henson's "Storyteller" series - there are many things that make it fresh and new, maintaining the themes and lessons of the older story while also adding in many details that are specifically relevant to our current day and age - and relevant to the world of a child.