CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 29 . . . . April 3, 2015
Willowgrove is the conclusion to the “Hemlock” trilogy, a story about what happens when Lupine Syndrome spreads across America, turning infected people into werewolves and filling non-infected people with fear. At the end of the second book, Thornhill, narrator Mac and her friends help werewolves break out of an internment camp where some of them were tortured by scientists attempting to find a cure. Willowgrove begins as the aftermath of that breakout causes a backlash of fear and violence against werewolves. Vigilantes calling themselves Trackers are planning an anti-werewolf rally in Mac's hometown. She wants her werewolf friends and boyfriend to get out of town for their own safety, but she is determined to find out who is responsible for the torture of the werewolves at Thornhill, and clues suggest that her murdered friend Amy's father has something to do with it. Amy's ghost also keeps appearing in Mac's dreams and encouraging her to find answers.
While running away from Trackers and mysterious professionals who are after Serena, one of the tortured werewolves, Mac pieces together clues that finally lead her to DVDs full of files about Amy's father's company. The files reveal that CutterBrown Pharmaceuticals was responsible for the spread of Lupine Syndrome in the first place and that they and their rival company conducted illegal experiments—codename "Willowgrove"— to try to cure the problem. At the Tracker rally, Mac gives the information to a reporter and gets a video to play on the big screens so everyone can hear the truth. The rally erupts into violence. Unbeknownst to Mac, her father has organized werewolves to secretly attend rallies across the country, and at this point they all turn into wolves at the same time, dramatically proving both that werewolves are too numerous to get rid of and that they are peaceful.
Willowgrove has the breathless pacing and intense emotion of Hemlock and Thornhill, but the plot of Willowgrove is too thin to justify the length of the book. It is padded with unnecessary characters, all of whom are concealing essentially the same secret, and a surplus of storage devices: the envelope Mac finds in the post office box contains DVDs and an iPod; the iPod directs her to a USB stick with the password to unlock the files on the DVDs, which are just subsets of the files on a hard drive. It's an exciting treasure hunt, but the complexity of it feels contrived. And the secret revealed does not answer all the questions suggested in Thornhill.
There is little character development in this third book. In every chapter, Mac agonizes over whether to leave her friends behind in danger while she runs to safety—unless she's agonizing about running into danger when her friends want her to stay safe—and in every chapter she pushes her feelings "down," "aside" or "away" and does whatever the plot requires her to do.
The love triangle developed in the first two books is given cursory treatment, but no one's heart is in it. Mac and Kyle's relationship appears to have overcome all obstacles and is in the novel to provide occasional kissing scenes (and one non-graphic sex scene).
The exploration of society's fear of deviations from the norm and the morally complex questions about freedom versus safety that gave the first two books depth are given short shrift in Willowgrove. At the end, the werewolves' peaceful resistance is a moving and effective scene and could have been developed further. Instead, narrative time is taken up by two gratuitous deaths (there are several other violent deaths, but the others at least had purpose in the plot). Because Mac's father appears only as a voice on the phone and a figure on a video screen, her difficult relationship with him is not developed or resolved in any way, as it could have been if Mac was working with him on his non-violent solution.
Willowgrove checks all the boxes one expects of a teen paranormal thriller—angst, sex, mysterious secrets, chase scenes, fancy dress scenes, gory deaths—but goes no further. It will be eagerly read by fans of the first two books who need to know how the story ends, but it is the weakest book of the series.
Recommended with Reservations.
Kim Aippersbach is a writer, editor and mother of three in Vancouver, BC.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any
other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.