Scholastic: 390 pp., $17.99, ages 13 and up
The middle book in Maggie Stiefvater's bestselling "Shiver" trilogy ended with a Romeo-and-Juliet cliffhanger, as Grace mysteriously disappeared from the hospital, Grace's father punched out her werewolf boyfriend and said boyfriend wondered whether he'd ever see his beloved again.
In "Forever," the highly anticipated conclusion to this shape-shifting young-adult series, the drama continues to ratchet up as Grace and her boyfriend Sam negotiate the complications of nascent werewolf love. It isn't easy having fur.
Told in the first person from multiple characters' points of view, "Forever" opens with a rare chapter from Shelby, an unpredictable and troublemaking female with a taste for human flesh. Shelby has once again sunk her teeth into an unlucky resident of Mercy Falls, Minn., a rural outpost plagued with wolves.
Her victim isn't Grace, though, Grace, too, has been prowling the forest on all fours since fleeing the hospital after her first human-to-wolf "shift." Attacked by wolves years earlier, she finally succumbed to the toxin that replaced her blond locks with dark fur, her perfect teeth with sharp incisors. As "Forever" begins, Grace is buck-naked in the forest, desperate for clothes and searching for a phone to call the boy with the heart — and eyes — of gold: Sam.
In the two months Grace has spent in Boundary Wood, Sam has become a suspect in her disappearance, and his friend Cole has been experimenting with hypodermic concoctions to transform between wolf and human at will.
Stiefvater's descriptions are, as usual, captivating. "For one second, one part of a second, one fraction of a breath, pain wiped all of my thoughts away from me. My veins were molten. My body was remapping itself, charting new courses, planning new bones while it crushed the others to dust," one of the main characters says when morphing from human to wolf.
There are a lot of loose ends to tie in this wrap-up to the enormously popular "Shiver" trilogy — an intelligent paranormal romance that surreptiously folds in serious adolescent issues, including teens' relationships with their parents, suicidal ideation, morphing bodies and young love.
The overarching scenario may be apocryphal, but it lends even more realism to uncomfortable emotions as Grace not only wrestles with negligent, disapproving parents but also attempts to figure out how to maintain her relationship with Sam when she can't predict which days she'll be canine. Sam, too, needs to figure out how to secure their budding love while also confronting parental issues, namely the werewolf who saved Sam from abusive parents only to condemn him to a life of werewolfism.
Then there's Cole, struggling to keep his suicidal feelings in check. "Life was a cake that looked good on the bakery shelf but turned to sawdust and salt when I ate it," he says. That attitude only complicates his attraction to Isabel, the standoffish daughter of a high-powered attorney who lost his son to a wolf and went on a vengeful shooting spree.
In "Forever," the latest wolf attack prompts a more formal hunt that raises the stakes. There's nothing like the looming deadline of a wolf hunt to increase the suspense, and Stiefvater plays this deadline, and its potentially deleterious romantic consequences, to full effect.
Understanding that the fate of their starcrossed romance is the reason to keep reading, Stiefvater delays the reunion of Grace, who hasn't yet figured out how to control random inter-species transitions, and Sam, who was successfully cured of the toxin that had him transforming into a wolf each winter. The love between them isn't the usual hormone-addled, can't-keep-their-hands-off-each-other sort. Rather, it is more mature, confident and, seemingly, enduring.
Isabel and Cole present a romance in relief to that of Grace and Sam. Their antagonistic attraction is a classic pairing of bad boy and out-of-reach girl, and their interactions are humorously tense.
How the two couples work together to combat the wolf hunt, and their own werewolfism, is the magic of Stiefvater, who wraps up this captivating series in a manner that is sure to satisfy fans.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times