School is Hell, Werewolf or Not
Making my novel River a YA book was not initially something that entered my head; it came purely by necessity. A wolf being turned into a human was bad enough, but an adult woman could basically just leave the human world and find her way back to the forest. Not so for an underage girl, who would have many more barriers in her way and fewer potential resources. So keeping River among humans for the book meant making her a teen, which, of course, meant the setting had to be high school.
I had two main points of concern about this.
One, that all of the cruelty I’d witnessed from kids take the forefront of River’s high schooled experience. Most people consider high school hell. For me, it was middle school.
There were changes in my home life, my mood disorder was changing shape and morphing closer into what I live with today, I had a male teacher who was highly inappropriate with me and other girls, and the other kids...kids were horrible. The push for social dominance that I’d glimpsed in elementary school grew more prominent and uglier in middle school, and while a lot of individuals would find their niche in high school, being different in grades seven and eight was a death sentence. You couldn’t escape becoming a target, sometimes merely saying the wrong thing, being in the wrong place, or doing absolutely nothing at all might lead to violence.
Here’s a quick bit from River:
Jen went silent and still, and I couldn’t appreciate the reprieve because the fine hairs rose on the back of my neck, a presence pushing behind me. Jen stared wide-eyed over my shoulder and lips parted.
I looked behind me to find a crowd of six people swarming, the girl in the lead drawing my attention right away. Long straight dark hair and cold eyes locked on me, broader shoulders and more height than her picture had suggested. Lindsay Sinclair...and she brought an entourage. What a surprise. I hate teenagers.
The photo hadn’t given me the impression there was much to her. I was wrong. Though she might have been a friend of Celeste’s, she wasn’t dressed in the typical, trendy clothes the others wore. Jeans, a large blue winter jacket probably concealing a weapon or two, solid running shoes.
I might need to worry about this one.
I twisted in my seat to face her and leaned back casually, clutched my 8B sketching pencil in case I had to stab her in the eye with it.
She stared down at me calmly, the buzzing tension around the others waiting for a fight not seeming to faze her. “You River?”
Hmm, she needed verification of my identity. Evidently there were several other tall, extremely pale girls with almost white hair at our school. Funny, I never saw any of them. Maybe they were werewolves too.
“I asked you a fucking question,” she said. “Oh, I forgot: you’re a little slow, aren’t you?”
This was going to be fun. My body tensed, prepared to leap at her. “What?”
“I hear you’ve been bothering some friends of mine,” she said.
I waited, but she didn’t continue. Apparently she required confirmation each time she spoke. Lindsay should’ve done her research—she’d be standing there all day if she expected me to respond to everything.
“Are you fucking deaf too?”
I spun the pencil between my fingers, gave the silence a few beats longer just to annoy her. “Waiting for you to get to the point.”
Her gaze narrowed and her cocky half-smile fell. “I don’t like it when someone bothers my people. Get it?”
I got it, I just didn’t care.
Her foot lashed out, kicked into the leg of my chair. My seat turned, screeched on the tile floor, and knocked into the table behind me. Lindsay leaned forward, hands hitting the table on either side of me, just a hair’s breadth away. Our eyes were level and she didn’t blink. “If I ever hear about you pulling that shit again, I will slit your fucking throat.”
A challenge. A challenge issued by someone who could actually be a threat. The pencil in my hand creaked as I clenched my fist; heart raced with glee at the prospect of a fight. My muscles tensed and burned, ready to attack.
Instead I leaned closer, glared directly in her green eyes, and growled low enough only she could hear. “Try it.”
That happened to me. Eighth grade. Except it was outside during lunch and the girl’s entourage was more like thirty or forty kids because they thought a fight was incoming. Someone had told the girl I was spreading rumours about a friend of her sister’s. I, of course, didn’t respond with “try it.” I responded with “I have no idea what you’re talking about but sure, I won’t do it again” while thinking oh god, I’ve never been in a fight, what if it hurts.
Ultimately, thankfully, there was no fight. The next year, ninth grade, the same girl was in my homeroom and was all smiles, friendly and talkative, and I’m pretty sure she had no bloody idea who the hell I was. (Which I found baffling.)
The second point of concern I had was to be careful to show the hellishness of school when you’re thrust in with these people who are still growing and changing and more often than not are horrible, all while avoiding typical high school stereotypes you see in movies and on TV.
Mostly because I don’t remember any of those.
Cheerleaders, right? Actually, I don’t know if we had those. I certainly never saw any women wandering the school in cheerleader outfits. And jocks, I mean, I think we might’ve had those, but I probably couldn’t pick them out in a crowd. I don’t know who was “popular” and whether they were any more horrible than everyone else (I’m guessing not). I hung out with the guitar crowd for a few years and I’m not sure if they counted as a stereotype or not.
And so it was with the novel River. The girls who are mean to her aren’t cheerleaders but just normal bitchy girls. The people who befriend River aren’t just dorks or outsiders, but kids from various groups who simply are lacking something—a sense of place in a pack—she can provide.
None of the kids, even the bullies, can be boiled down to just one type of person—they cross different social circles and they have different motivations (whether to collectively pounce on The Person Who Is Different or from insecurity driving them to establish a false sense of dominance). I know I was picked on, and I picked on others. Sometimes I stood up for kids being teased, other times I joined in the teasing. I am not particularly proud of anything I did that was cruel to someone else, but I think that’s probably more accurate for a lot of teen experiences than a clear-cut case of Person A is a bully and Person B is a victim every time. We can all be monsters given the right circumstances.
A lot of the other secondary characters came from similar idea of folding a lot of different aspects together, amalgamations of people I knew and watched. Charlie, River’s foster brother in the book, is made up of three or four different guys I knew in high school; the thing that happens to him during the dance (no spoilers) is an actual thing that happened to one of those guys (I heard the story second hand since I didn’t go to prom because ugh, I was busy having an anti-prom).
River, in a lot of ways, reflected my experience of school and the things I witnessed more than anything else, which I hope added a touch of realism to a book where wolf in human skin has to attend tenth grade.
River (River Wolfe #1) by Skyla Dawn Cameron.
Defiant, nocturnal, moody, and short tempered. Though she sounds like a typical teenager, River is anything but. She's a werewolf. River was once the alpha female of a wolf pack, until one night when she was attacked and bitten by a mysterious human. When she awoke, she found herself completely alone, and changed into a young human girl. Three years later, after being thrust into a world where she doesn't belong, and living in foster care, River believes she'll never know who bit her or why. Then one day in school, all that changes. Enter Daryl, who seems to be a normal teenage boy, though River recognizes him for what he is: the human that changed her. He holds the answers to all her questions, but only offers vague responses. He seems to be a step ahead of her at every turn, giving her only enough information to create even more questions. Although they're playing his game, River is determined to win. As if being stuck in a world she hates, with a life she never asked for, and faced with a destiny she doesn't want wasn't bad enough, River still must find a way to survive every human's greatest challenge: high school.
Genre: Mature/Upper YA, Paranormal
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Thank you Skla for joining us here today at From the Shadows!
To learn more about Skyla Dawn Cameron and her books, please visit her website and don't miss our Q+A with Skyla Dawn Cameron where we discuss her Demons of Oblivion series.
The author is giving away a HUGE River themed prize pack.
- DVD/Blu-Ray combo of Ginger Snaps
- River poster print
- River tote bag
- wolf charm bookmark
- River postcard
- wolf charm necklace
- Animal Speak pocket guide version by Ted Andrews
To enter, please use the Rafflecopter form below. This giveaway is open to US and Canada. This is a tour giveaway, so winners will be randomly selected by the author or publisher.
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