Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: July 1, 2014
Read: June 2014
Where It Came From: BEA
Genre: YA / YA Paranormal
Rating: 4 White Pants
The Quick and Dirty:
Cole and Isabel from the Wolves of Mercy Falls (Shiver) trilogy are back, and having adventures in fame, werewolfery and emotions in L.A. Top-notch, as I've come to expect from Maggie Stiefvater, and a good place to start Stiefvater reading if you're not a paranormal/fantasy fan. There is humor, but it's always tempered by real emotions and insecurities.
The Wordier Version:
The werewolf situation in Mercy Falls having been resolved, Cole St. Clair is in Los Angeles to resume his rock star career with a new studio album and a reality web series. At least that’s his public story. He’s actually in L.A. to restart things with Isabel Culpeper, who may be the only person capable of making him feel right in his human skin. Isabel, however, isn’t ready to deal with the addiction, fame and wolf issues Cole presents; she feels disconnected from her medical career plans and her current job in fashion, and she has no patience for people. Cole’s arrival in Isabel’s life threatens to destabilize the only things allowing her to get through each day, but Isabel’s withdrawal from Cole threatens his sobriety.
In all honesty this doesn’t need a review from me. I could note that you might be momentarily confused if you haven't read the trilogy. I could say BUT WHAT HAPPENS TO ISABEL'S COUSIN? Or, GIVE ME MORE SCENES WITH LEON! But I accept that the story of Sinner is not in the supporting characters so much as it's in the relationship between Isabel and Cole, and if you were reading the book to find out what happens to Isabel's cousin, who makes Martha Stewart arrays of food every day in a quest to become more perfect and less anxious, you'd be missing the main part of the book. Just as any criticism of the book seems silly, any praise I can give it is superfluous.
In the last year I have become convinced that Maggie Stiefvater, much like the Disney-Pixar people, can make whatever project she’s working on top-notch. Her writing has gotten better since the Wolves of Mercy Falls Trilogy, her supporting characters are more fleshed out, and the technicalities behind the fantasy elements of her worlds have been glossed over (unlike in the Wolves of Mercy Falls series when explaining how werewolfing worked involved some dodgy use of biology terms). The result of all this improvement is that Stiefvater’s last four books have been adventure-romances featuring mature and confident teen characters, with a fast horse or car thrown in for good measure, and a death-related subplot. How anyone could dislike these books is beyond my comprehension.
And with that in mind, I'm just going to pepper the rest of my thoughts about Sinner with some pictures. To get into the true Sinner mentality, read the rest of this while listening to Stiefvater's curated playlist for her WhitePantsNovel project.
The Picture Book Version:
This is basically how I picture Cole:
But because music isn’t my thing and I only know like ten rock groups, my brain kept confusing confident Cole with sensitive heroin addict rocker (and idol of my elementary school years) Kurt Cobain.
At least Cole has Isabel, who is too cool for drugs.
Even drugs that only turn you into a wolf for a few minutes.
But whereas the werewolf thing in the original trilogy made my thoughts revert in confusion to my biology studies:
This book didn't dwell on any of that. This is the first Stiefvater novel that doesn't need to be on a speculative fiction shelf. Cole’s transformation to wolf is consistently shown as the equivalent to his former drug use. He loses control of his body and his mind for a period after shooting up, and then returns to his friends’ worries about his use. If there were not a trilogy that rests on the werewolves actually being wolves, it would be easy to assume that Cole and Isabel are just processing his drug behavior as animal-like. Like the scene that got me to stop watching Trainspotting.
Stiefvater writes in a forward letter that Sinner is "the truest novel I've written. I hope that those who don't need the truth in it will see only the werewolf, and I hope that those who do need the truth will see only the human." In addition to the heavy themes of substance abuse and grief, the truth of the novel comes through in Cole's public persona. There are moments when Cole sounds exactly like Maggie Stiefvater's twitter account. (AWESOME)
So Cole sometimes = Stiefvater, and I remember loving Cole in his science-nerd/jaded-rock-star form in Mercy Falls, but I forgot how much I liked Isabel. Isabel is so disconnected from her world that she has begun to wonder if she is a sociopath, when in fact her problems probably stem from feeling too much for others. In that state it might be easy for her to accept Cole with all his problems just because they make her feel something in the midst of the nothing. Isabel, though, knows what she wants from Cole and she isn’t afraid to risk losing him if she cannot have that.
And if that wasn't enough to convince you how much fun the book is...
There are fast cars!