In this debut middle-grade novel, a teenage girl fights an environmentally destructive development in her hometown, where a werewolf roams.
Thirteen-year-old Emma Murry loves nature and animals. She and her best friend, Sophie, are proud members of their middle school’s Environmental Club in Black Mountain, North Carolina, a place renowned for its monarch butterfly population. So they, like other locals, are horrified by the news that a ski resort is in the works. Its environmental impact will be devastating, starting with tearing down the community’s monarch butterfly garden. Some Black Mountain residents support the development, seeing it as an economic boost. The girls brainstorm ways to protest, and even act on some of them, before learning that action movie star of yesteryear Chester Scott is the one planning the resort; Emma’s been crushing on Chester’s teen son Jeb via Instagram. She forces herself to look past Jeb’s indisputable cuteness and sells him on Black Mountain’s natural beauty, hoping the boy can change his father’s mind. But when they discover a bizarre set of paw prints, Emma and Jeb become convinced that there’s a werewolf on the loose. Identifying the lycanthrope gives Emma another great excuse to spend time with Jeb and, while she’s at it, try to scare the resort developers away. There’s not much time, as the zoning meeting to greenlight the project takes place in only a week. It’s an uphill battle for Emma, but she knows her beloved environment is worth it.
Rebecca Laxton delivers an entertaining, environment-friendly mystery. The werewolf subplot focuses more on investigation than scares; Emma first has to prove that a werewolf even exists before identifying its human counterpart. Further engaging plot threads emerge from the narrative as well, including a death threat against Chester, a wrongfully accused townsperson, and a character who turns up missing in the final act. Emma is an appealing young hero who shares a subtle romance with Jeb. She quickly sees him as more than a social media idol; the two connect over their love of skateboarding and their utter belief in the existence of a legendary shape-shifting creature. At the same time, there’s potential trouble between Emma and Sophie. Sophie doesn’t hide her animosity toward Jeb, and her perpetual negativity spoils some of the book’s lightheartedness. Descriptions are colorful; Emma, a painter, equates people’s traits with soothing hues (eg, “buttery yellow”). Rebecca Laxton’s prose, meanwhile, engages multiple senses: “At lunchtime, the crowd flocked to the restaurants. The street smelled like hot bread, tangy oregano, and warm tomato sauce, making my stomach rumble.” There’s educational value, too, as Emma not only praises nature, but also notes for Jeb (and readers) things that harm the environment. Gracie Laxton’s black-and-white minimalist artwork prefaces each chapter. These unembellished illustrations and silhouettes leave lasting impressions of such things as a howling wolf and a wheels-up skateboard.
A smart, riveting environmental tale with a laudable adolescent cast.
Ad Date: yesterday
Page Count: 244
Publisher: Warren Publishing
Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2023
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2023