howl by shaun david hutchinson

Name: Madeleine

Grade: 11th

Title: Howl

Author: Shaun David Hutchinson

Published in: 2022

Pages: 421

Rating: 3 stars

Howl is the story of Virgil Knox, a boy from Seattle who is forced to move to the tiny town of Merritt with his dad after his parent’s divorce. He is unhappy to live with his strict grandparents and struggles through high school in a culture less than welcoming to him.

The book begins with a seriously wounded Virgil limping down the deserted main street of the town after being attacked by a monster in the woods—no one believes his story and the town writes him off as a liar. The traumatic memories of the monster and the sexual assault he suffered at the party before the attack plague Virgil as he tries to get his footing in his new environment. He begins the school year as a social outcast, but when one of the most influential boys in town shows an interest in him and offers him friendship and social standing, Virgil must decide whether to forgive Jarrett for what he has done or satisfy himself with his two eccentric but loyal friends. Meanwhile, he is drawing further apart from his best friend and boyfriend back home in Seattle and feels unvalued by his parents, perpetually preoccupied with their work. Virgil gets a relieving reprieve from his worries in his drama class, where the thrill of being on stage erases all other thoughts from his mind. However, this escape is only temporary, and in the end, Virgil will have to face his fears in order to conquer them and choose the people that truly matter to him.

I didn’t like this novel quite as much as Hutchinson’s other books that I’ve read, like Before we Disappear and The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza. They all explore similar themes of existential crises, risks, and choices faced by young, queer characters as they struggle to find their identities and trust the people around them. I did find Virgil more relatable in some ways than Hutchinson’s other main characters, perhaps because the plot was a bit less fantastical than in the other two novels. The monster in this story was more clearly a symbol of internal struggles than the supernatural occurrences of the other novels, which lent to a more interesting plot but decreased the relatability of the characters.

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