Travis Heermann – The Wild Boys

travisheermann-thewildboysCan a 16-year-old girl stem the tide of a lycanthro-pocalypse?

When three younger boys show up on the doorstep of Mia’s everyday suburban existence, naked and on the run, she is drawn into a shadow world where a series of strange disappearances heralds a slowly spreading plague of bioengineered lycanthropy. Mia must save the three orphaned boys from their brutal Alpha, a man-beast who believes normal humans are food.

A war is brewing for the top of the food chain. Mia doesn’t know it yet, but she holds the key to the future of the human race.

Werewolves. To me they’re a breed of supernatural monster set apart; they don’t inspire the abject fear that zombies do – I swear, those always give me nightmares – but I find them scarier than most other supernatural monsters and at the same time fascinating. So I was pleased to accept a review copy of The Wild Boys, especially as I’d enjoyed Heermann’s previous novel Rogues of the Black Fury and I was interested to see what he would do in more contemporary setting and writing for young adults. While I enjoyed The Wild Boys just as much, there were also some things about the book that bugged me.

There were some superfluous elements to the narrative, that didn’t really seem to have an impact on the plot. Most importantly, there is the fact that Mia lost her younger brother two years before the beginning of the story. Sho’s loss is sometimes brought to the fore as a convenient explanation for something, such as the bad relationship between Mia and her mum, the fact Mia has survivor’s guilt and thus is predisposed to help the three boys. As such it’s an important motivation for Mia’s character, but I never felt Sho’s loss as keenly as perhaps was needed. In fact, I felt far stronger about some losses Mia suffers later in the book and to me so seemingly did Mia. There are also several near-death resurrections, were Mia fears that someone has been killed, only for them to make a reappearance later. While I see how this increases tension and with some of them I really felt them, having them reappear later alive, if somewhat the worse for wear, rather lessened the impact of these events significantly. One or two miraculous resurrections would have been fine, but in this case it just made for a too pat total in the casualties tally.

The ending felt rather unfinished as well. While the main opponent has been neutralised, the problem of the virus outbreak hasn’t been solved and there isn’t really an answer to some of the questions raised in the book, such as why Mia is able to stem the tide, or rather how she will manage to do so. What will happen with her beau Dalton, will they resolve their issues or is their relationship definitely over? Will Mia’s family be able to mend their fences and come together once again? These were all questions I was left with and there seems to be plenty of room for a sequel, but I haven’t been able to discover any news regarding a follow-up. I rather hope there will be one, because the story just doesn’t feel finished as it stands.

Mia, however, made up for a lot, as I thought she was a wonderful protagonist. She’s an outsider, both for being not from Nebraska and because she’s half-American, half-Japanese. I actually liked how Heermann handled this aspect. Mia feels isolated at school, especially as no-one – except Japanese foreign-exchange student Kenji – looks like her, and she feels isolated at home as her dad is away a lot due to work and her mum has retreated into herself due to her grief over Mia’s brother. On top of this, she struggles with the values her mother tries to teach her and the somewhat different values of those around her. I love that Mia’s mum speaks mostly Japanese to her, not just because that’s what’s easiest for her, but because she really wants Mia to learn something of her Japanese background. Despite her survivor guilt, her conflicted feeling about her mother, and being an isolated teen, Mia is resilient and quite funny. I loved her bantering with her friend Nate and her cautious, wry flirting with Dalton. During the course of the novel, Mia learns to let go of her guilt and let down her walls, which results in her reconnecting with her mum, letting in the boys and truly falling for Dalton. The other characters are quite interesting in their own right, though there were several characters that were only around on the periphery that were a little cardboard cut-outs, such as the high school’s mean girls.

The plot of the novel was interesting, but as stated before, there are many questions as yet unresolved. I liked the idea that werewolves were created by a man-made virus, much like the Ticks in Emily McKay’s The Farm were man-made vampiresque creatures. While it is logical that a sixteen-year-old high school student wouldn’t know the who and why behind the virus, I would have liked to have learned these facts at least by the end of the novel, especially since both her dad and her aunt are government agents with high clearances. I did like the portrayal of how the authorities handled the outbreak with as much spin as needed to keep the populace from panicking.

The Wild Boys was a fun read, which read easily and quickly, both due to the writing and Mia’s voice. However, there were several flaws that I sincerely hope will be solved by a sequel, so the remaining questions will be answered and the story doesn’t have such an unfinished feeling. And I sincerely hope there will be a sequel, just because I’d love to be able to spend more time with Mia, Dalton the boys and Deuce, Mia’s Shar Pei.

This book was provided for review by the author.