In Maggie Stiefvater's SHIVER, Grace and Sam found each other. In LINGER, they fought to be together. Now, in FOREVER, the stakes are even higher than before. Wolves are being hunted. Lives are being threatened. And love is harder and harder to hold on to as death comes closing in.
This story started with a girl, and her wolf in the woods. A fairy story with an impossible transformation that breached two worlds and bought the young lovers together – a boy who turned into a wolf in the winter months, and turned back into a boy to be with his summer girl.
But then the story changed. The boy was cured, the lovers united and all seemingly right with the world . . . until the roles were reversed. Now it’s the girl who is a wolf and the boy who pines in the long and never-ending cold, waiting for his love to return.
‘Forever’ is the third and final book in Maggie Stiefvater’s glorious literary YA trilogy, ‘Wolves of Mercy Falls’.
In the build-up to the book’s release, I pined for months – salivating over the cover, pondering the conclusion and crossing my fingers for a happy ending. But I found that when the book was finally delivered into my hot little hands that I was reluctant to get stuck into it. Ironically enough, it took me forever to read ‘Forever’ because I didn’t want ‘Forever’ to end. . . and by the last page I had conflicting feelings – unsatisfied but pleased, unsurprised but frustrated.
Let me just start by saying that I knew ‘Forever’ wouldn’t be an easy book to read. For one thing, Stiefvater had set up the emotional turmoil back in ‘Linger’ with the tragic role-reversal between Sam and Grace. The angst had been well and truly built up for the finale as Grace and Sam were written back to square one as star-crossed lovers, separated by a gulf of transformation and the endless wood. Secondly, I know that Stiefvater is a tough author. Her series is a bit of a contradiction – at once touting the current supernatural/werewolf fad, but with real literary flair (you need only look at the pages peppered with Rilke and Yeats to get the idea that this is no ordinary YA). And I know from reading her first novel ‘Lament’ that Stiefvater is not the sort of author to finish her book in a neatly-tied bow. I knew all of this, and yet I still came out of ‘Forever’ a little bit miffed and dazed.
One problem I had with the book was the character of Cole St. Clair. I know that when Cole first appeared in ‘Linger’ there were many fans who were perplexed and disgruntled by his new narrative role. I, personally, loved Cole’s addition and his complex almost-romance with Isabel Culpeper. I thought Cole and Isabel as two snarky, jaded and lustful lovebirds was genius (if a little warped) – Isabel as the Mercy Falls queen bee bitch, and Cole as an infamous rocker from the band NARKOTIKA who is on the run from fame, fortune and himself. True, Cole being a rocker on the run who was recruited to lead the Mercy Falls wolves was a little strange – but I appreciated his and Isabel’s imperfect characters to balance out the squeaky-clean and sweet Sam and Grace. However, in ‘Forever’ Cole really stood out to me as a glaringly odd character in the series. I was willing to take on his curious background as a world-famous musician who was self-destructive and thought the only way to escape his life was to follow a crazy, wolfy scheme. Okay. A little ‘out-there’ but otherwise fine and interesting . . . what’s hard to swallow in ‘Forever’ is the subsequent convenience that not only is Cole a sociopathic rocker with a death wish – but he also happens to have a brilliant scientific mind (thanks to his scientist daddy) and is on the hunt for a cure to the malaria-like wolf gene.
When you type it out like that his whole storyline does seem really contrived and down-right ridiculous. And, honestly, even with Stiefvater’s brilliant characterization and pin-point writing, Cole was a bizarrely awkward character in ‘Forever’.
That’s not to say I didn’t like Cole. I think the series needed a Cole-like character, someone whose perversely jaded outlook on life could balance out Sam’s sometimes sappy-sweetness. And I think Stiefvater communicates some brilliant insights through Cole’s musings;
Life was a cake that looked good on the bakery shelf but turned to sawdust and salt when I ate it.
I also really liked Cole and Isabel’s relationship. Both of them are self-destructive, self-hating pessimists who fight their attraction to one another tooth and nail. I loved their difference to Grace and Sam and their puppy love romance. But by book’s end I felt like maybe Stiefvater had tipped Cole and Isabel’s relationship-scales too much to the side of doom and gloom without offering up enough slivers of hope for their young souls.
Cole St. Clair was really the only aspect of ‘Forever’ that was out of step for me – but it was a pretty big misstep, especially because it seemed another aspect of the series was sacrificed for Cole’s sake. One of the things I loved about the first two books ‘Shiver’ and ‘Linger’ was Stiefvater’s concentration on Grace’s family life. So often YA books sweep parents under the rug and conveniently write them out of the entire book. Stiefvater took that commonality and flipped it on its head – making the absence of Grace’s parents into a really compelling (and infuriating) side-story that offered up plenty of home-life melodrama. I really missed that in ‘Forever’.
But, of course, ‘Wolves of Mercy Falls’ has always been the Sam and Grace show. From the moment Sam sang about his summer girl readers were hooked into their doomed romance – and with good reason. Stiefvater has turned the hotly popular werewolf story into a Machiavellian/Shakespearian tragedy of epic proportions. Grace and Sam have a seemingly impossible romance – made all the more bitter sweet for them being soul-mates of the highest order. A good portion of ‘Forever’ articulates the rift that Grace’s wolfiness has caused to Sam’s life, and it’s brilliantly heartbreaking;
Without Grace, I was a perpetual motion machine, run by my inability to sleep and my fear of letting my thoughts build up in my head. Every night was a photocopy of every day that had come before it, and every day was a photocopy of every night. Everything felt so wrong: the house full to the brim with Cole St. Clair and no one else; my memories edged with images of Grace covered in her own blood, shifting into a wolf; me, unchanging, my body out of the seasons’ reach. I was waiting for a train that never pulled into the station. But I couldn’t stop waiting, because who would I be then? I was looking at my world in a mirror.
Throughout ‘Forever’ I kept thinking how ingenious Stiefvater’s wolf-world is. She really has turned the old werewolf mythology into an utterly unique tragedy – a conundrum to twist her character’s lives that keeps readers guessing how it will all end.
True to Stiefvater’s tough, literary reputation ‘Forever’ doesn’t finish neatly. There’s no contrite happily-ever-after or quick-fix finale. Rather, the book finishes with a nice open-endedness that can be read as either fulfilling or frustrating for the way that her characters seem about ready to live on – beyond this trilogy and the woods of Mercy Falls.