A horror novel that works on several levels, April 1, 2013
John Vamvas and Olga Montes’s WHEREWOLVES is a horror novel that goes a step beyond the expected. In part, it’s about a group of troubled teens trying to survive an unthinkable horror during a school-sponsored weekend survival trip. But the actual horror here has less to do with the creatures that ruthlessly attack the teens than it does the adults who orchestrated it all – and with their ultimate motives.
WHEREWOLVES begins with a woman running frantically from some sort of creatures. Vamvas and Montes do an admirable job creating heart-pounding tension as Dilly fights for her life. We get just brief glimpses of whatever it is that’s chasing her, but it’s enough. When a hapless truck driver tries to help, things get even more chillingly terrifying. Then the novel shifts to Hooper High School where a group of unruly teens are preparing for a survival trip sponsored by their teacher, a retired military hero named O’Sullivan. These are real kids, warts and all, and they talk and act pretty much the way we would expect them to. Most of them are angry and defensive, some are bullies, a few are downright dangerous, and none of them – with two possible exceptions – are particularly likable. These are all military brats whose parents were killed or damaged in Iraq, or who have experienced other terrors in their young lives. And O’Sullivan hopes to use the survival weekend to help them get past the trauma and find the strength and heroism he believes lies within them.
Unfortunately, things go very wrong. When O’Sullivan leaves the kids on their own for the night, the same creatures we saw at the start of the novel begin to wreak havoc on the campsite, picking off the kids in horror-movie fashion. But what’s really going on? There are hints here of the 2012 film “Cabin in the Woods,” which means there’s more to what’s happening than we think. In the end, we find ourselves back at the beginning, but this time it all makes sense. And it’s more horrible than we ever could have imagined.
This novel is being marketed to the “mature Young Adult” or “New Adult” markets, which means you should expect heavy doses of profanity, sex, and violence. And Vamvas and Montes don’t disappoint. The teens in this novel pretty much do nothing but spew profanity and lust after each other. And once the carnage kicks into high gear (about two-thirds of the way in), there’s enough blood and guts to satisfy any horror fan. This is not a book for younger teens, and parents should be warned that even though the main characters are high school students this novel does not read like a YA title.
My one criticism is that the majority of WHEREWOLVES focuses on O’Sullivan’s class of troubled teens, meaning readers do have to slog through a whole lot of teen nonsense on the way to the denouement. I have to admit to getting a little impatient for the creatures to resurface as I plowed my way through the pranks, bullying, sexual repartee, and general teenage shenanigans. And there were a few of those kids I couldn’t wait to see torn apart by beasts in the night. But Vamvas and Montes do eventually deliver, and the payoff is worth the wait, so be patient. I’m just not sure New Adult readers (usually in their early twenties) would be as interested in all this teen angst as younger readers might. But with all the graphic violence, sex, and language, this is not a book for younger teens.
The authors have said that WHEREWOLVES is “not so much a horror story as it is a social commentary,” and I do agree with that. The book is more about the world we live in – and how we treat each other – than it is about monsters in the night. “Despite their lack of likability,” the authors said, “we hope our characters’ humanity shines through, thus distorting the reader’s concept of good and bad, black and white, right and wrong.” That’s an excellent assessment of what happens in WHEREWOLVES. This is one horror novel that will have you thinking long after you’ve finished reading.