Wolf Mark by Joseph Bruchac 2011 (ARC)
Tu Books/Lee & Low
IQ "They say it's always darkest before the dawn. But what do you do when the sun comes up and it's still not a new day?" Dad pg. 338
Lucas King knows a lot, but what he doesn't know is what exactly his father does as a Black Ops infiltrator. He doesn't know why his family moves around so much. He doesn't know what happened exactly to his Uncle Cal, only that he's dead. When Luke and his father settle in a new town (I don't remember where, I think a small town out West) it seems as though they will be there for a while and maybe Luke can finally adjust and be invisible to everyone except his new friends, Meena and Renzo. But Luke has to come out of the shadows when his dad goes missing and he spots mysterious men near their trailer, he suspects they are waiting for him. Now Luke is on the run and with the help of some mysterious Russian hipsters, Luke might manage to out wit the kidnappers and save his father. But can the hipsters be trusted? And why exactly was his father kidnapped?
I wanted to like this book. The first book published by Tu Books, an imprint whose mission I adore. I have really liked previous books by Joseph Bruchac and yet Wolf Mark was a disappointment for me. First, this book commits one of my little pet peeves which is short but many chapters. There are 73 chapters, 374 pages and about five pages per chapter. I think that's a waste of a chapter, especially since each chapter ended SO DRAMATICALLY which was pointless. Why end with a cliffhanger when the reader will just turn the page and discover the big secret? It creates pointless drama and after awhile it becomes annoying and ridiculous. Another thing that bothered me was the character of Meena. She's Pakistani as the author likes to remind us whenever he bothers to mention her, she's solely there to be the love interest and the climax of the book features one of the most cliche scenes concerning love interests. I legitimately rolled my eyes. Plus I didn't understand why the author was obsessed with talking about the 'repressive culture' of Muslims in Pakistan and how Luke and Meena could never be together because of her father and yet when her father is introduced he doesn't seem all that conservative...But what finally drove me to the edge and made it impossible for me to finish this book was ALL THE METAPHORS. Not only were there too many metaphors, some of them were just strange. here's a sampling "I'd be listening as avidly as a lion in a zoo does when i hears the footsteps of its keeper approaching at feeding time with a bucket of raw meat. Growling with happy expectations" (pg. 178), "I'm further down the social ladder from them than a worm is from an eagle" (pgs. 17-18) and "she gives a little nod at that piece of information I've fed her as carefully as a zoo-goer slipping a piece of fruit through the bars to a sharp-beaked bird" (pg. 214). These metaphors are too long, too random and too ridiculous. Who thinks/talks/writes like that?
I could not even focus on the spy elements of the novel which I had thought would be the best part of the book because I was so busy rolling my eyes at the metaphors. I was also irked at how cliche the climax was, not only with Meena but also with the evil villain. And Luke even acknowledges that the whole scene is completely cliche but then....the author does nothing to make the scene any less of a cliche. Luke also intentionally reads like a know-it-all. He explains that he remembers everything, which is fine, but he feels the need to spout random facts that are completely irrelevant. Furthermore, there were dramatic moments in the story where Luke would say something like "I started thinking about....." and it would be SO RANDOM and take away from that particular scene that was getting interesting and dissolve into some philosophical musings (one particular scene towards the end comes to mind). I do however think that the genetically engineered beast hybrids were creative if not sad. And while I didn't like how the author used Luke as a mouthpiece to express his views, he makes some great points. Luke is also a funny guy which never hurts.
Wolf Mark has some good elements but they do not create the exciting story I was hoping for. The author clearly wants his readers to learn a lesson (he says as much in the Afterword) the problem is that the story is sacrificed for the lessons and the audience is forgotten. I was also bothered at how the evil villains all had to be racist. One of them kept saying "Honest Injun" which I thought was a phrase people stopped using around the '70s...but maybe in small towns? Or is it a Western expression? I don't know but it was jarring and it sounded alien to my ears which made the character who said it even more of a joke. Between the caricature characters (the elite Russian mafia-esque students that Luke sort-of befriends had potential but they are all so one-dimensional), the overuse of metaphors (I'm starting to realize that sometimes metaphors are not one's friends) and the random tangents on various aspects of today's societies (rants about our foreign policy, war in general, racism, etc) I could not handle this package. The many short chapters ironically enough made it harder for me to want to finish this book because it seemed to never end.
Disclosure: Received from Tu Books. Thank you! Especially for starting the imprint Tu Books =D