Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Maggie Stiefvater Is Still Brilliant

After finishing Linger, I had no idea how I was going to make it a year before finding out what happened to Sam and Grace; ironically, I almost missed the release date for Forever because my brain was completely convinced that it came out at the end of July. Happily for me, my brain was wrong, and I was able to devour Forever a full two weeks earlier than I thought I would!

Like Shiver and Linger, Forever delivers another tale of love, sacrifice, and how to truly live life. The writing is just as achingly beautiful, and the use of poetry and song lyrics were pitch-perfect. Indeed, these stories would not be these stories without the songs and poems and flashes of art that imbue the writing so effortlessly. Good story is important, but I think the thing that will keep me coming back to these novels for a long time is the quality of the writing. They are so well-written and achingly reflective of the truth; this book was no exception in its ability to make me catch my breath and pause at a phrase, sentence, or passage so exquisite that it required time regardless of my urgent need to read, read, read to find out the rest of the story.

Just as Linger expanded the reader's focus from Sam and Grace to Sam, Grace, Isabel, and Cole, Forever expands its focus to center on the pack as a whole; and it is not just the pack as an abstract or a fact of Sam's past or a future responsibility for Cole: the pack is a very real factor in the present for both Sam and Grace once more. When the pack is threatened, it is not just the most important pieces of Sam's past that are threatened. Instead, it is Grace's (and by extension Sam's) future that is threatened as well. As Sam and Grace continue to struggle through these obstacles, their story widens to include Cole and Isabel. As I stated in my review of Linger, I didn't really care much about what happened between Cole and Isabel because I was so wrapped up in Sam and Grace's storyline. In Forever, however, I became very invested in Cole and Isabel and was so happy with they way they ended up by the end of the novel.

The end of the novel may be unsatisfying to some, but I really thought it was perfect. I know what I think happens beyond the end of the story (which Stiefvater left ambiguous), but the ending being happy or sad wasn't really, I think, the point. I think the point was what the characters in the novel learn by the end. They all, at some point early in the series, learned to survive in the strictest sense of the word; what they do in Forever is learn to live. Grace is the least conflicted of the four in the novel, probably because her battle to merely survive was lost (or possibly the definition of survival was changed) at the end of Linger; for her, the biggest battle is to make it back to Sam and recognize herself and their relationship in a very different light. Sam, however, has some major demons to slay: for him, truly living is all about facing down his fears. Whether it be bathtubs, Beck's true motives, shifting again, or losing Grace, Sam must come to grips with the things that have held him captive. These things were all built up very poignantly in the first two books, and seeing Sam deal with them (realistically and honestly) create some of the most moving scenes in the novel. The fact that Sam moves past being controlled by these fears is part of why the ambiguity of the ending didn't bother me; the point is not so much happens over the winter but that Sam's life can really now be a life.

Cole and Isabel are fighting to move past what they label the "toxicity" of their separate pasts that leads them to push each other away for fear of being toxic to each other. Cole starts to win his battle first and is able to show Isabel that they are only as toxic as they choose to be. Cole St. Clair grew over the course of this novel, and we see glimpses of the leader Beck knew he could be from the very beginning of the story. Isabel, on the other hand, must give up her hardness and desire to push people away in order to truly live. Her choice at the end of the novel is huge precisely because it is completely selfless; she believes she has no hope for her own happy ending, but she takes action at great cost to herself for friends who have really become her family.

In the end, this series is about love in all its forms. It is the story of friends, family, and lovers living life and taking care of each other. I so wish that I could speak more eloquently about this book and this series, but perhaps I'm still a bit too close to the experience of reading it to do so. Just trust me: read these books!

Check out Angie's wonderful review: it says everything I couldn't!

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