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Review by Suze
Raul goes to boarding school. He doesn't belong to any groups and doesn't have many friends there. He looks after the little kids at school and tries to stay out of trouble with his vicious gym teacher. Every student at Raul's school goes home for the weekend. Raul has a secret though. He pretends to go while he's actually staying. The reason for that is a beautiful white wolf. When they run he feels like he's home, which is why spending his weekends outside is so appealing.
Something changes for Raoul at school. He finally makes a friend, so he has the chance to share some of his life. He has a crush on a girl and there is a student who might be nicer than he seems. Is there someone Raul can trust with his secrets? He runs with a wolf and transforms, but he isn't a mean beast that kills and only comes out when there's a full moon, so he's certain he isn't a werewolf. What happens to him during the weekends and who is the white wolf that's always waiting for him?
This Is Not a Werewolf Story is a fun book filled with beautiful words and wonderful magic. I immediately loved Raul. He's strong and resourceful and he's terribly brave. His father isn't good at taking care of him and his mother has left them, which is why he ends up at the boarding school. His existence is pretty lonely, but he makes the best of it. He doesn't have friends, but in the forest that doesn't matter, then he feels like he's found his right place in the world. The deep connection he has with the wolf is unique, which is something I liked very much. I also loved that the school is fabulously peculiar and I enjoyed reading about the teachers and the students.
The inspiration for This Is Not a Werewolf Story comes from old folklore tales and I enjoyed what Sandra Evans has done with that information. She's skillfully used the amazing elements and turned them into a fascinating modern story. I absolutely loved that she's written her book with the help of her son, that makes it extra special. It's clear that there's much love and appreciation for the topic. I really enjoyed reading the vivid descriptions of Raul's adventures and his surroundings. The ending of the story is surprising and I liked the angle Sandra Evans has chosen. This Is Not a Werewolf Story is a fantastic book for both children and grownups.
About Sandra Evans
Sandra Evans is a writer and teacher from the Pacific Northwest. Her forthcoming middle grade novel, This is Not a Werewolf Story (Simon & Schuster July 2016), was inspired by her favorite 12th century French tale, Bisclavret, by Marie de France. Born in Washington state, Sandra spent her childhood on U.S. Navy bases from Florida to Hawaii, and returned to the Northwest as a teenager. Since then, she has lived and traveled in France and Europe, but has never strayed far for long from the Puget Sound region.
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1) Your passion for French literature inspired your story, can you tell a bit more about that?
I was never a particularly strong student in French. It didn’t stop me from loving it, or the idea of it. At some point as an undergraduate I took a class from Professor Denyse Delcourt, a medievalist from Quebec. One of the first things she had us read was a 12th century collection of lais (short, narrative poems) by Marie de France. Professor Delcourt opened those poems up like a treasure chest. She gave me the key. And I’ve spent 20 years reading and rereading Marie’s stories and always finding more. Later, as a professor myself, I saw how few students think to take medieval literature classes, and I thought maybe the best thing I could do for my field would be to present those works to a younger audience. And I thought the best way to do it would be to follow Marie’s lead and write a new story by rewriting an old one.
2) What do you find so fascinating about (were)wolves?
As a child I had a recurring nightmare about being trapped in my house with a wolf trying to get in. We moved a lot but the dream followed me—the house was always the one I was living in at the time. I think I’ve always been fascinated by what they represent—the outlaw, the thief, the solidarity of the pack. And of course, as a child I loved folk tales and legends from all over the world. My favorite stories were always the ones where people were transformed into an animal or a tree or some other shape.
3) Could you describe Raul's character in six words?
Resourceful, analytical, observant, tender-hearted, curious, and courageous. And, of course, alone.
4) Can you tell a bit more about the background of the peculiar school Raul is attending?
My husband worked for many years at a non-profit agency that had foster kids living on site with social workers taking care of them. Although he didn’t deal with the kids directly, sometimes he’d hear the details of what had brought a child to the home. Those were sad stories. He was always impressed with how kind the social workers, how hard they worked, and how much they cared.
I also wanted to create a place where Nature could have a role in healing children. When my son was younger and having a tough year at school, I found that taking him down to the beach or for a walk in the woods was a quick way to get him out of his head and turn the page on a bad day.
5) You wrote This Is Not a Werewolf Story with the help of your son, can you tell a bit more about that?
That’s a whole story in itself! I’ve been an aspiring novelist pretty much my whole life. I’ve received about 800 rejections for novels and poems over the last 20 years. When he was in the third grade my son came across a picture book version of Marie de France’s Bisclavret in one of his classrooms. At that point I had an agent trying to sell my historical novel and meeting rejections at every turn. I knew I needed to write something else, while I had this agent still willing to read my work. When Mac came home and told me the story he had read, and I recognized it, I had one of those lightning strike moments. Write a book for kids! Mac and I decided to adapt Bisclavret to the Pacific Northwest. We played with every stereotype found in popular books for kids. It was really just a game; the rules were to remain faithful to the heart of the old story and to translate it to our time and place. In the end, my agent didn’t like it. I was discouraged, but I knew I had to keep trying to find a home for this story. I knew I needed my son to see me fail and try again.
Being a teacher mom who dreams of being a writer is like having 6 full time jobs. I hear a lot of women talk about how hard it is to write and work and parent. It is. In fact, it is pretty much impossible. So that’s why the story of my story is important. Because I seriously doubt this book would have been published if it weren’t for my son, if it weren’t for me being a mom. Implicating him in the process made it impossible for me to give up on myself. I did it for him, so that he would see that hard work and perseverance are more than empty words.
6) What are your plans for the future?
I am working on a prequel to TINAWS, set in 3500 BC in south western France. It will explore the roots of the White Deer Woods magic in the adventures and divine romance of a tough young woman named Red Moon. I am also working on a sequel to Raul’s story, and I have plans for another book in the series that will be set in the 19th century and link Red Moon and Raul and explain how the magic jumped continents.
One very lucky winner will receive a hardcover copy of This is Not a Werewolf Story & swag by Sandra Evans.