Review: “Mongrels,” by Stephen Graham Jones

Rating: 5 out of 5

In Stephen Graham Jones’s Mongrels: A Novel, werewolves are real. Our young teenaged protagonist listens to his grandfather’s crazy stories about being a werewolf, and later realizes there were secrets and lessons hidden in each of those stories. He’s together with his uncle Darren and aunt Libby now, as they travel from town to town, trying to stay under the radar. They’re always stealing new cars and working cruddy jobs. Our protagonist is so utterly driven to be what his aunt and uncle are that he develops their behavioral traits, even as each year passes and it becomes less and less likely that he’s going to change.

There are fascinating details about being werewolves. Like the fact that eating trash is a quick way to die, because items you might eat while in wolf form could kill you when you change back. There are other unusual ways to die, also, like getting used to eating fries, or wearing stretchy pants. These sound humorous, but they’re actually fairly horrific. Our protagonist also starts to realize that since every werewolf family seems to pass lessons down through stories, different lessons might be known by different families.

This doesn’t really have an over-arching active plot. It’s more the coming-of-age of the protagonist through a series of events. He’s based his entire identity on the belief that he’ll shift and become a werewolf, while he stubbornly remains human. The overall story shows us what it means to be werewolves in the modern era, and what happens when you want to be something so very much while it stays out of reach. As such, there are some mysteries that don’t get solved by the time the family leaves town. I didn’t particularly feel frustrated by this, the way I might in some other books. The werewolves in this book are just so interesting that they totally kept me glued to the (electronic) page.

Content note for sometimes-graphic animal harm and death. (To werewolves, most animals are prey, and they don’t always kill cleanly.)

I was changing.
I didn’t know into what.

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