The Curse of the Wendigo by Rick Yancey

64369776Lynn: I’m sure readers have noticed that we don’t write about a book unless one or both of us likes it.  We try hard to post about a variety of genres and ages ranges but our favorites DO have a way of sneaking in.  Anyone notice the numbers of fantasy and sf we post about?  Guess who manages the schedule 😉  A genre that doesn’t appear very often though is horror.  I’m not fond of the genre which says even more about my admiration for the two books in the Monstrumologist series.  I flat-out adored the Printz Honor Monstrumologist (S&S 2009) last year and have rarely read a book that scared me as much as it impressed me.  I approached the sequel, Curse of the Wendigo (S&S 2010), with trepidation.  Could Rick Yancey pull off a second as skillful as the first?  He did and I believe I admire this book even more than the first.

Will Henry opens the door one rainy night to find a beautiful woman asking if this was the house of Pellinor Warthrop.  Muriel Chanler is clearly an important and painful part of Dr. Warthop’s past and she begs the doctor to search for her missing husband John who had disappeared on a mission to investigate sightings of a supposedly mythical creature, the Wendigo.  Although bitterly disputing the existence of such creatures and fearing for his profession, Warthrop nevertheless agrees to go, taking Will Henry with him to the Canadian wilderness.  What they find there is deeply horrifying.  Greatly troubled after returning, Will Henry and Dr. Warthrop travel to New York City and a series of gruesome murders occurs as something begins to nosh on the city’s poorest inhabitants.  As they try to stop the murders, both Warthrop and Will Henry experience a soul-shattering crisis of conscious that threatens their hearts, minds and relationship.

I think this second book is a tad less heart-pounding than the last but the deep sense of dread and horror is so intense that it can almost be felt.  There’s plenty of blood and gore for readers who feel that is essential to the genre but my favorite element is Yancey’s rendition of the Victorian style of writing, thinking and believing.  The writing just knocks me over it is so good.  Open the book at any page, pick a paragraph, a sentence at random, read it and marvel.   The thematic issues seemed even richer in this book and perfectly authentic to the time and the introduction of the female characters a wonderful element.  There is so much more I’d like to write about but I’ll stop or there won’t be anything left for Cindy.  Don’t miss this book!  Snap to, readers, snap to!

Cindy: My library copies of Monstrumologist have been in constant circulation, long before it won a Printz Honor so I am chagrined to admit I still haven’t read it. The good news? I can report with all honesty that readers can start with book two without any problem. When I finished The Curse of the Wendigo, heart-a-racing, I did flip back to the beginning to reread the prologue to remember the nuances of the framing device for the story. I’m not often a fan of these, but Yancey has done a good job with setting up the finding and transcribing of Will Henry’s journals…I’m eager to watch that mystery unfold as well.

I love the relationship between Dr. Warthrop and Will Henry…and enjoyed its evolution throughout the book.  Dr. Warthrop does not suffer fools easily and expects Will to be self-sufficient and to be intuitive about his duties. Obviously, serving a monstrumologist can be quite dangerous if one is not careful, and after Will experiences problems while sexing a dangerous creature that turned out to be hermaphroditic, Dr. Warthrop quips this understatement of the year: “By now I’m sure it’s occurred to you that the price of ignorance in monstrumology can be quite steep.” Will had been encouraged in this endeavor by Lilly, a new character to the series who livens up the scene when she is on stage. She talks non-stop and is quite engaging, even delivering Will’s first kiss. We also meet another new female character, a past love of Warthrop’s who left him because he would not give up his monstrumology, an addition which deepens our understanding of the cantankerous and private Dr. Warthrop.  Will and his monstrumologist need each other and don’t understand quite why, but they care for each other. My students report that this installment is slightly less gory than the first, focusing more on suspense and atmosphere, but I found plenty of gore to turn my stomach…please–all of those skinned faces and real face masks? I was seriously creeped out often in this book.

And then there are the themes. What is a monster? “You wanted him to be a monster and he obliged you, didn’t he?….We do strive to become what others see in us, don’t we?” And Will, who is tortured in his mind after not helping a baby he encounters. When he later finds it dead at the hands of the Wendigo, he is devastated that he had allowed himself to be convinced that the baby’s suffering had nothing to do with him. Whose suffering are we responsible for? Under what circumstances? Perhaps one of the most haunting lines of the novel is this:

The line between what we are and what we pursue is razor thin. We will remember our humanity.

I’ll be heading back to read book one for sure and will be first in line for the next book in the series. I’ll have to beat off my students, but age must come with some benefits. And if they give me a hard time, I’ll go get that ominous looking jar in my office and start to uncap it…

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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