Mongrels – Stephen Graham Jones

Synopsis: He was born an outsider, like the rest of his family. Poor yet resilient, he lives in the shadows with his Aunt Libby and Uncle Darren, folk who stubbornly make their way in a society that does not understand or want them. They are mongrels, mixedblood, neither this nor that. The boy at the center of Mongrels must decide if he belongs on the road with his aunt and uncle, or if he fits with the people on the other side of the tracks.

For ten years, he and his family have lived a life of late-night exits and close calls—always on the move across the South to stay one step ahead of the law. But the time is drawing near when Darren and Libby will know if their nephew is like them or not. And the close calls they’ve been running from for so long are catching up fast, now. Everything is about to change.

“Werewolves, we’re tough, yeah, we’re made for fighting, made for hunting, can kill all night long and then some. But cars, cars are four thousand pounds of jagged metal, and, pushing a hundred miles per hour now, the world a blur of regret–there’s only one result, really.

And, if a bad-luck cop sees you slide past the billboard he’s hiding behind, well, then it’s on, right? If he stops you, you’re going to chew through him in two bites, which, instead of making the problem go away, will just multiply it, on the radio.

So you run.

It’s the main thing werewolves are made for. It’s what we do best of all.”

Last year I read my first Stephen Graham Jones book, Mapping the Interior. After just that initial experience, I knew his writing style was one that I was absolutely smitten with. That I most certainly needed to get my hands on more of his work, because goddamn. What a brilliant storyteller! After having read Mongrels, I can say with 100% certainty – SGJ is a new favorite of mine!

The story follows an unnamed narrator & his dysfunctional family. His grandpa, aunt Libby & uncle Darren are left to raise him after his mother dies during childbirth. Terribly tragic, yes, but unfortunately not unheard of. Especially when you are born into a family of werewolves.

After his grandfather dies, the three are left to fend for themselves. They move every few months, travelling from town to town in the American South, roaming in secluded areas, working whatever jobs they can, never allowing themselves to get too comfortable in any one place. After all, werewolves tend to attract trouble.

Always on the run, the young narrator anticipates his transformation. Unlike many others in his position, he is excited to “wolf out”. He longs to join the clan, to feel like he fits in. With his upcoming 16th birthday, the timeline for whether or not he has the genes to transform is quickly approaching.

“I turned back to the fire and held my palms out, waiting for the heat, and I remembered what I saw on a nature show once: that dogs’ eyes can water, sure, but they can’t cry. They’re not built for it.

Neither are werewolves.”

There are certain gems that find you at exactly the right time. This book? Oof. It touched me more than I could ever expect. It was similar to The Girl With All the Gifts for me, in that regard. The kind of books that reinvent the mythology surrounding creatures that aren’t quite human, blending modern ideas with older lore. They are also two books that just came out of nowhere & blindsided me, becoming instant favorites! Mongrels is, without a doubt, the best werewolf book that I’ve ever read!

It’s brimming with darkness – visceral, graphic violence; immense beauty – the genuine, raw love within this family; and a healthy dose of humor – scat collectors, french fries, deadly pantyhose, masking canine breath with mints.. among other things! At it’s core, this is a beautiful coming-of-age story not unlike Boy’s Life. But with werewolves!

When I wasn’t reading, I couldn’t stop thinking about Mongrels. It’s gloriously addictive, clever, poignant & compassionate. It stuck its claws in, knocked me fucking sideways & completely destroyed me. Over & over again.

-Holly

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