CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 10. . . .November 5, 2010.
Under My Skin. (Skinned; Book One).
Judith Graves. Illustrated by Val Cox.
Reidsville, NC: Leap Books (www.leapbks.com), 2010.
302 pp., pbk., $19.99.
Grades 7-12 / Ages 12-17.
Review by Darleen Golke.
“The Hunter Council doesn’t let people like me walk away. They’ll always be watching.” My stomach lurched, but I said exactly what I’d been feeling since the funeral. “As for my parents – their graves mean nothing to me.”
Brit lowered her eyes and stared at her Doc Martens, but not before I saw the shock on her face.
“Yeah, that sounds heartless doesn’t it?’ I choked out, striding forward once more. Brit kept up with me as best she could “Wanna know why I couldn’t care less about two boxes buried in the dirt?” My voice was too loud, but I couldn’t stop the words from pouring out. “’Cause they’re empty, Brit. We buried empty coffins. My parents’ bodies were never found. I’m not even sure they’re really dead.”
“Not sure they’re . . .” Brit grabbed my arm and pulled me to a stop. “What do you think happened to them?”
“That’s what the Hunter Council is trying to find out.”
“The Council’s involved with your parents? But I don’t understand, I thought they only dealt with the bigwigs . . .” She eyed me with new awareness. “Oh.”
“Can we drop it for now? I ground out. “I’m feeling a little not myself today.”
“Dropping it, yup, we’re dropping it . . .” Brit scuffed her boots on the sidewalk.
I shouldn’t have told Brit, a human, anything about my parents, or my suspicions, or my sad little I’m-a-mutant-freakazoid life. I’d only put her in danger. I couldn’t afford to get close to hunters, to people, period. Not now. Maybe not ever.
The current popularity of speculative/paranormal/urban fantasy fiction and the author’s own interests encouraged Graves to begin a planned three book series. Under My Skin introduces 16-year-old Eryn McCain who, after the disappearance of her parents, relocates to the “small, super-duper normal” town of Redgrave in Northern Alberta to live with her uncle, his wife, and daughter. The Hunter Council, for whom her father worked and whose mandate includes eliminating rogue paranormals and controlling other paranormals, strongly suggests Eryn move to quiet, normal Redgrave while it investigates her parent’s disappearance. However, Eryn soon discovers Redgrave is teeming with paranormal activity and controlled by chief-of-police, Logan Gervais, an “old, wise, and evil” vampire. His son, Wade, who both appals and fascinates Eryn, explains that “all kinds of paranorms lurk in these dark alleys, in the woods, even in our school.” Teenage boys and pets have been disappearing, and when Eryn encounters a werewolf within days of her arrival, she investigates and learns werewolves and vampires roam town. Unlike wolven who are born, not made, werewolves are created with dark magic, and “their humanity died the moment they were turned.”
Eryn has her own secrets; she is half wolven, a “race of humans who could turn and assume wolf form,” thanks to her wolven mother who married a human and wanted Eryn to have a normal human life. Her father hunted paranormals and dabbled in pharmaceuticals, developing drugs to control Eryn’s wolven side “to keep my unpredictable wolven half subdued.” Now, with support from neither her parents or drugs, Eryn struggles with her basic wolven nature while trying to fit in with her new family and environment. Among the friendships Eryn develops are paranormal hunters Matt and Alec, sons of the witch Marie Delacroix; and dark sprite Brit Heils whose brother has evolved into a rogue hybrid paranormal who can “shapeshift like no other” and whose father is a policeman and protégé of Chief Gervais. Alec and Wade, two hot guys, fire her already volatile emotions: “I was safe with Alec and wild with Wade.” She admits, “I had a thing for tall, dark and dead wrong for me.” The action picks up in the final third of the novel, reaching its climax the first night of a police-enforced curfew when a battle between opposing forces of hunters and paranormals ensues during which Eryn is seriously wounded by an attacking werewolf and Wade disappears after telepathically showing Eryn how she can destroy his father and save the people and town of Redgrave.
Graves establishes the mythology of Redgrave in the first half of the novel, a mythology steeped in werewolves, vampires, witches, shamans, sprites, other paranormal creatures, and hybrids, yet with some interesting twists. The pace begins slowly as complicated connections are established and interactions among characters are set, but the action ramps up as the group of hunters engages with paranormal creatures. First person narrator Eryn’s viewpoint dominates so the reader sees the action and attitudes through her eyes as the conflict between her wolven instincts and her human side evolves. Eryn emerges as a strong, independent, feisty young woman whose sense of responsibility for her “pack” and her environment wars with her wolven abilities and instincts. Secrets, a recurring motif throughout the novel, joins themes like good versus evil, temptation, betrayal, folklore, relationships, family, teen culture. Some nice touches find their way into the novel and reflect Grave’s firsthand knowledge of young people undoubtedly gained from her work as a technician in school libraries. Illustrations by Val Cox are scattered throughout the text, and stylized headers and footers includes are included on most pages that might appeal to visual learners but tended to distract this reader.
Violence, murder, bloodlust, evil, the dark side of humanity, paranormal creatures and activities, visions, psychic wards, telepathy, anti-paranormal weapons, and shape shifting are only some of the elements that may disturb some readers as may the fact that the cast of characters all seem to possess some level of paranormal ability. However, fans of paranormal YA fiction will appreciate a protagonist with attitude and anticipate the next volume in the planned trilogy, Second Skin, to be released in 2011.
Darleen Golke writes from Abbotsford, BC.
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