December 13, 2011

Rabid Reads: "Peter the Wolf" by Zoe E. Whitten

Peter the Wolf
Zoe E. Whitten
Aphotic Thought Press (2011)
ISBN 9780982042731

NOTE [SPOILERS AHEAD]: After Zoe read my original review of this novel on Goodreads, she was ... upset. Now, I don't make it a habit of rewriting reviews, but I felt I could afford to revisit the book. After going over certain passages again, I see a couple things I'll address, but my overall opinion of the book stands. I'm not discouraging anyone from reading this novel. In fact, I'd like to read others' opinions, as I've already seen two starkly different reviews on Goodreads from Michele Lee and Rebecca Sutton.

For those who haven't read the book, it is essentially the story of Peter Holmes, a fifteen-year-old who tells his own tale. He's damaged goods. His parents were the scum of the earth, who sexually abused him and his fraternal twin sister. At the age of twelve, after his sister was murdered by one of their parents' clients, Peter finally summons the will to turn them into the police. His father is killed by inmates, while his mother rots in prison. As for Peter, the system sweeps him under the rug. The novel begins with him at fifteen-years-old, living with a compassionate family of four. He's only surviving, and then he meets Alice.

Alice is a gymnast and a gifted one at that. Through her, Peter find a passion for gymnastics. While this healthy introduction into his life takes shape, so does a disturbing one. His sexual urges, that he's suppressed through his own methods because he has no faith in anyone's ability to help him, focus directly on Alice. That might not sound too terrible, except for the fact that she's only ten when they meet. Their friendship grows, until Peter crosses that line and molests her. He tries to stop himself and agonizes over what he knows is wrong, but ultimately gives in and lies to his family and Alice's in the process. From then on, I didn't see him just as a victim, but as a predator as well.

Peter's sense of self-worth seems to improve as he trains to become a gymnast, he comes out of his shell and makes friends at school, but it's threatened. Not only by his relationship with Alice, but by her father when he and Peter's foster family discover what they've been doing. If that's not enough, some jocks at his high school have found out about the horrid childhood he had to live due to video footage floating around online, and decide to blackmail him with it.

In my original review, I said I lost all sympathy for Peter when he crossed the line with Alice. To be more accurate, I lost sympathy when it became clear he wasn't going to stop crossing that line. Yes, he was a victim through most of his life, and he openly admits what he's doing is wrong, but he does it anyway. And even though I lost sympathy for the guy, I was still wrapped up in the story. It was written very well, and in scenes where Peter wasn't intimate with Alice or lying to others about it, he was a character I wanted to root for. He even accepts a therapy session at one point, but the relationship continued.

Even though Zoe didn't intend this as a love story between the two, a great deal of Peter's and Alice's interactions felt that way to me. Now, Zoe is a heckuva writer, but this novel just didn't jibe with me. What really lost my emotional investment was the last third of the novel, which veers wildly into left field as Peter discovers he is a werewolf, just like his mother who has escaped from prison to hunt him down. I'd spent the first two-thirds of the book becoming emotionally invested in Peter's life and turmoil, which were riveting regardless of any objection I had to Peter's relationship with Alice, but it was all but forgotten as Peter's mother arrived, kidnapped Alice, morphing the story into a damsel-in-distress tale. I mean, the whole contemporary drama of Peter's life was already engrossing and that's what I wanted to see focused on. Frankly, the return of his mother felt like a distraction from the important through-line of the novel. And by the time the story gets back to tackling Peter and Alice, I had already dropped out of the story on an emotional level.

The book is the first of a trilogy, so it's pretty clear the bigger picture is yet to be revealed. Maybe reading all three books together would help better appreciate the story, but with just this one book to go on, I didn't care for it.

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