Book Review : Stephen Graham Jones - Mongrels (2016)
Pre-Order MONGRELS here (Official Release on 10/05/16)
Everything's a trade-off when you're a werewolf.
It's like the world wants us to be monsters. Like it won't let us live the way normal citizens do.
Monsters were "the thing" in Hollywood over last decade. Studios tried to revive every kind of pre-fabricated boogeymen they could find: vampires, zombies, even mummies to a certain extent. The only monsters that didn't get a proper revival were werewolves, who unfortunately had to ride shotgun to everybody. That was perhaps the lesser of two evils as werewolves still have a mystique the other were bluntly stripped of. That's why I was interested in reading Stephen Graham Jones' new novel Mongrels. Turned out to be a moving and sneaky political novel, but I thought it kind of transcended its own theme.
Mongrels is the story of a young boy from a werewolf family. He lives with his uncle Darren and aunt Libby, who barely scrape by and constantly move from state to state in order to keep low profile. The boy has yet to transform, so he gets to experience what life is on both sides of the spectrum. Mongrels sprawls over a decade of violent encounters and close exits for dysfunctional, yet oddly loving family. It is very much a coming of age novel and the beautiful thing about Mongrels is that it doesn't necessarily transcend the mystique because it isn't REALLY the subject of the book. At least it didn't appear so to me.
So, did I just read a werewolf novel or did I just read a kickass coming of age about growing up different and shaped your culture? If I believe Bob Pastorella's review of the book for This is Horror, I have missed an entire layer of meaning to Stephen Graham Jones' book that ties-in to werewolf culture. That's entirely possible. I can't say my monsters game is very strong. But I've seen Mongrels as an allegory for growing up as a minority in America, which I believe is extremely pertinent to the era we live in. That idea might've tainted my entire reading actually, but it could've been about growing up black in Ohio and it would've worked, more or less.
Now, I'm really going to beat this point into the ground, but I thought it was one of the novel's stronger points. America has a problem with difference, that we all know and agree upon. But how the problem manifests itself is what is often misunderstood and that is where I believe Mongrels shines. It doesn't feature any scenes of overt, blatant racism, but the young narrator's isolation and very much self-taught upbringing reflected how we treat people who are inherently different. The fact he only has his family and his culture to fall back on was, I thought, a subtly powerful statement about alienation.
Mongrels was a rather simple novel. It doesn't read much differently than one of John Irving's lengthy coming of age books. Except that it features less white people and more werewolves, of course. Part of me kept wondering during my reading if I would've enjoyed it more if I had been 17 years old. Probably. There is a lot of wisdom in Mongrels. Some of it I already knew because I'm freakin' 33, but it doesn't change the fact that Stephen Graham Jones is a great professor on top of being an original and uncompromising author. I enjoyed my reading of Mongrels and fans of Jones will definitely find what they're looking for in there, yet I believe the prime audience for the book is slightly younger than I am.