________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 33 . . . . April 29, 2016


Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend.

Alan Cumyn.
New York, NY: Simon & Schuster (Distributed in Canada by Simon & Schuster Canada), 2016.
408 pp., hardcover & eBook, $21.99 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-4814-5558-9 (hc.).

Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.

Review by Joan Marshall.

***½ /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



As terrible as Pyke's beak and claws looked, Shiels saw that the crowd could tear him to shreds. If she allowed it.

"He had other commitments," she declared.

A howl of laughter engulfed the group.

"What?" the quarterback chortled. "Fighting off woolly mammoths?"

Shiels grabbed the pink sheet. "Haven't you ever heard of personal privacy?" She stared down the quarterback until he glanced away. Then she tucked the sheet more securely into the pterodactyl's backpack, and raised her voice so others might hear. "I think you'll find a welcoming environment at Vista View. We're honored that you chose to come here."

Pyke was glancing backward at the doors to the school. He seemed to be worried – for Jocelyne?

But then he hunched forward again – he really seemed quite small when he was on all fours – and exploded upward. Shiels, Jeffreys, everyone staggered backward in the shock of the moment, as if they had been standing too close to a geyser.

Shiels' phone throbbed again. Manniberg. He never texted her, yet there it was. New arrival soon, test case. Let's talk tomorrow a.m.

She performed a sanity check. In the dirt in front of her – claw marks. The crowd around her – gaping. In the sky- Pyke, once again a speck in the distance, a sharp and zigzagging head followed by a riotously twisting tail of crows.

Eighteen? He didn't look a day less than sixty-five million.

In her role as student body chair of Vista View High School, her final year a blur of college application forms and frenetic planning of school activities, Shiels Krane finds her best laid plans are hijacked by the transfer in of a new student, an 18-year-old pterodactyl, Pyke. Shiels falls instantly in love with Pyke, completely overcome by his raw animal power. Lust so sucks her in that she makes out with Pyke on the stage of the Autumn Fling dance and ends up in her boyfriend Sheldon's bedroom where he manages to calm her down so she can sleep. Pyke, however, has ignited the student body and has chosen Jocelyne Legault, a solitary running champion as his girlfriend. Sick with desire, Shiels encourages Pyke to play football with the school's team against a traditional opposing team to which the school usually loses. The game goes horribly wrong when Pyke slashes open the arm of an opposing player, is arrested and jailed. After Shiels and Jocelyne work together to raise Pyke's bail, he comes to stay at Shiels' house, even charming her protective, argumentative physician mother. In a burst of energy, Pyke transports Shiels to a remote derelict cabin where his lover Jocelyne, now herself a pterodactyl, and his entourage of thousands of crows engage in a whirl of bacchanal dance, feasting on moose meat. Shiels finally claims her humanity, turning back to reality, while Jocelyne and Pyke disappear into the sky.

      In this powerful novel, Cumyn uses the improbable story of an incoming pterodactyl student to delve into the messy, touchy topic of sexual desire, of lust between two so different lovers that the human lover has to relinquish herself utterly to her ancient lover. Shiels' slightly creepy stroking of Pyke's long beak, her sudden love-at-first-sight lust and her love-soaked attention to Pyke and his troubles to the exclusion of all else in her life will be recognized by any young person who has felt the jolt of sexual desire for the "wrong" person.

      Shiels is a driven character, beloved by her high achieving parents whose long term goal for her to be a doctor is never far from the surface. The ultimate OCD overachiever organizer, Shiels thrives on micromanaging school affairs and her subtle control of both the school principal and her long term boyfriend, Sheldon. Even before Pyke's arrival, though, Shiels has begun to question her future, with daydreams of a political affairs career. But, shattered by desire, Shiels finds herself letting go of all her responsibilities and dreams, the only influence she can accept coming from the lonely owner of a run-down shoe store. It's only when Shiels realizes that she desires Pyke, not loves him enough to sacrifice her life for him, that she starts to decide who she will be.

      Pyke is the handsome, popular, powerful, sexual bad guy character who draws all students to his light, but particularly Jocelyne and Shiels. Secondary characters, all seen through Shiels' eyes, are strong and integral to the story's theme: the supportive boyfriend Sheldon who does everything he can to keep Shiels but is smart enough to retreat in the face of sexual desire; Shiels' patient, perfect parents who remain resilient even as Shiels hurts them again and again; Linton, the shoe store owner whose life has had to go on even after unspeakable tragedy. The football players are stereotyped as is the dull school secretary.

      Vista View is a typical suburb in a northern North American city where the fall is cold, wet and snow filled, reflecting Shiels' shutdown.

      Dialogue and Shiels' inner self-talk are all sharp and up to date, reflecting character and advancing plot, especially highlighting Shiels' descent into lust, but also allowing for some humour and pathos to surface. The usual ubiquitous smart phones dominate the teens' lives, demonstrating emotional highs and lows and moving the plot along.

      At first, this odd, implausible plot seems untenable but, as the story unfolds, as Shiels lets go of one life and stumbles towards the future, it gathers momentum and meaning. Intended readers will enjoy drawing parallels between their own lives and this novel's struggling characters.

Highly Recommended.

Joan Marshall is a Winnipeg, MB, bookseller.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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