Wolf Mark, by Joseph Bruchac (Tu Books, Sept 15, 2011, YA, 392 pages)
Here's one for those who want their paranormal mixed with science fiction (of the set-on-earth laboratory variety), in a story both character-driven and action-packed!
Luke's parents made sure he knew what he needed to know to survive--how to fight, how to think, and how to escape. He grew up accepting that his Dad's work in special, top-secret, missions around the world meant that his family would never live peacefully in a suburb with a nice picket fence.
But he never thought things would become as grim as they have after his mother's death. Luke's dad is seeking a drug and alcohol fueled escape from reality, and the two of them are living in a tin can mobile home on the edge of a middle of nowhere southwest town (that just happens to be home to an international hush hush biochemical corporation). Luke just tries to get by, keep his head down so that no-one will find out just how different he is (which is considerable). He's hoping to maybe, someday, ask Meena, the Pakistani girl he likes more than a little, to come for a ride on his motorcycle, as well as hoping to avoid the sinister attentions of a group of sunglass-wearing, pale-skinned Russians, with pronounced canines, who have arrived at his high-school...
Luke's plan to lay low doesn't stand a chance. When his dad is kidnapped, things get very strange, and very scary. In the course of escaping from his father's enemies (motorcycle chase action, and the thugs don't stand a chance), he finds out that there are lots of things his dad never told him (a mysterious old house full of secrets plays a big role here--always a plus in my point of view). The biggest of these secrets is that Luke is a skin-walker--able, like his Native American ancestors, to take the form of a wolf....
Which proves wildly helpful when taking on an evil corporation that plans to take over the world with its twisted genetic manipulations.
Wolf Mark moves from the slow-paced everyday of life in high school to an action-packed crescendo of good guys vs bad guys. The first part of the book tells of Luke's life as a high-school student...there are disquieting elements, and it's clear that Luke is something far out of the ordinary, though he tries to keep a low profile. But once Luke's father is kidnapped, ordinary goes right out the window, and mayhem, danger, evil plots and extraordinary secrets take over!
Those who read my blog regularly can guess I liked the first part of the book best--the detailed character-driven set-up. Luke's discovery that he is a skin-walker, and his exploration of that part of his heritage, was also most intriguing. Since the book is told in the first person, the reader gets a very nice sense of Luke's motivations and reactions.
On the other hand, the incredibly action-packed end was both too incredible and too action-packed for my taste, and I found a few plot points just a bit too much to swallow.
That being said--those who like thrillers of great thrilling-ness, with the technological and the paranormal operating side by side, will probably like the second half even more than the first. It all hangs together (albeit by the skin of its teeth toward the end), it's tremendously gripping, and the twists Bruchac brings to his story are a fresh and fascinating take on werewolves and vampires (Native American shape-shifting plus old-world legends! How cool is that!).
It's definitely a good one to offer a teenaged boy who's a "reluctant" reader, which is something that Bruchac was thinking about when he wrote it, as shown in this quote from a recent interview with him at Boys and Literacy: "... I love fantasy and horror and always wanted to add something to that genre from an American Indian perspective. And I am very interested in writing stories for the reluctant reader, especially young men who often feel little connection to books at that stage in their lives--even though I believe they need good stories even more in their teenage years."
Other readers say:
"It's just an awesome thrill ride with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing. A great book for readers who like action, spy thrillers and are a bit burned out on paranormal. YES paranormal! NO melancholy, love triangles, or wallowy ick." (Biblio File)
"If you’re a fan of action-adventure stories, the darker edge of paranormal, believe there is an element of truth behind every conspiracy theory, and enjoy first-person stories told in an original voice, then I’d recommend reading this one." (Dark Side of the Covers)
(disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher)