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Literature / This Is Not a Werewolf Story

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This Is Not a Werewolf Story is a middle-grade novel by Sandra Evans, a professor in Medieval French Literature. It is loosely based on Bisclavret and was written with input from Evans’ own son.

Raul, who suffered Parental Neglect from his depressed father, lives at a boarding school for kids who have personal problems. He makes a point of rarely talking and generally only associates with the younger kids. He does befriend the school’s newest student, Vincent, and has a crush on Mary Anne, one of the friendlier girls. He also likes most of the teachers, though the school coach, Tuffman, seems to hate him for unknown reasons.

On the weekend, everyone goes home to their families, except Raul. He finds family a different way: by using the magic of the nearby woods to turn into a wolf, where he meets White Wolf, whom he believes to be his Missing Mom trapped in animal form. And unfortunately, the two of them have competition from a cougar now prowling around the forest...

Evans has indicated that she is working on both a prequel and a sequel, though nothing has been officially announced.

The books contain examples of:

  • All Abusers Are Male: Subverted with Sparrow’s abusive mother.
  • Animal Motif: All of the shapeshifters, of course. Vincent also has Ravens and Crows, with the implication that he may be able to turn into a raven one day.
  • Animal Naming Conventions: In an odd example of this trope, Raul often uses "White Wolf" as if it was his mother's actual name. Likewise Raul's father never thinks of calling his two wolf roommates as anything but their respective colors.
  • Badass Teacher: The reading teacher, Ms. Tern, to Raul’s surprise. She’s actually there hunting down Tuffman, whom she believes to be an infamous poacher.
  • Because You Can Cope: Mary Anne is angry when Raul seemingly tells an embarrassing secret about Vincent to the school. She admits that while Vincent lies all the time, it stems from serious self-confidence issues, while she considers Raul to be a far stronger person who shouldn't need to cut him down.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Tuffman, now trapped as a cougar, is sent to a zoo where he can no longer hurt anyone, and Raul regains human form and reunites with his father. Vincent, though repentant, is not fully forgiven, nor has he totally come to peace with himself. Raul's mom is still trapped in wolf form, but Raul and his father are holding out hope that White Deer will one day help them save her.
  • Boarding School: The setting.
  • Bruiser with a Soft Center: “Mean” Jack.
  • Cannibalism Superpower: Tuffman extends his lifespan by eating spirit animals.
  • Cannot Keep a Secret: Vincent. At least, unless it’s one of his own.
  • Compelling Voice: Several times throughout the story, Raul finds himself starting to believe Tuffman’s lies and almost spills his secrets to him. Afterwards, he can’t explain why. Apparently it’s activated by repeatedly using the listener’s name.
  • Evil Teacher: Tuffman goes beyond Sadist Teacher, given that he eats other shapeshifters to extend his lifespan.
  • Heroic Wannabe: Raul wants to stop the cougar to save his mother, but also so that Mary Anne will see him as "heroic." Vincent also wants to impress people with his bravery, but he's far more timid and also more willing to just seem impressive, even if he has to lie to do it.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Vincent could apparently become a raven shapeshifter, but doesn’t want to.
  • I Know Your True Name: Tuffman can activate a Compelling Voice when he uses people’s names, and will sometimes drop it repeatedly during a conversation.
  • Lethal Chef: Sparrow’s grandmother makes an awful casserole for lunch every weekend. Later Raul reads his mother’s recipes and realizes that she was a terrible cook too, a detail which he finds kind of endearing. Then again, the “recipes” are actually secret codes...
  • Lineage Comes from the Father: Gender Flipped; it’s implied that being a shapeshifter passes from mother to child through mitochondrial DNA.
  • Little Bit Beastly: Despite insisting that he's a normal human boy when he changes back from a wolf, Raul has a mild case of Super-Senses and Super-Strength, as well as unusually sharp teeth and “scary eyes” in his human form. These traits are amplified by the Fresnal lens.
  • Loss of Identity: Raul considers getting Shapeshifter Mode Locked to be like the death of your human self, and even considers Vincent to be a sort of murderer. Near the end of the novel he also begins to fear that his mother has stayed in wolf form for so long that "White Wolf” may be all that’s left of her.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: Raul compares the woods magic to a recipe, and believes that his mother got Shapeshifter Mode Locked because she somehow messed up one of the steps to the transformation. As a result he’s always careful to do everything the same way each time.
  • Magitek: The Fresnal lens.
  • Mama Bear: White Wolf can be a Mama Wolf when Raul is threatened.
  • The Marvelous Deer: The White Deer, which occasionally shows itself to people and taught Raul how to transform.
  • Meaningful Name: Evans named several characters after protagonists of French medieval literature, as discussed names in the first paragraph of this blog post.
  • My Instincts Are Showing: At one point Raul, having just turned back to human, runs away from Tuffman on all fours. Afterwards he feels ashamed for letting Tuffman see him "like a wolf wearing the skin of a boy," though insists that it was also a conscious choice.
    • The Fresnal lens makes Raul stronger, but also more aggressive even in human form.
  • Never My Fault: Vincent’s worst trait is that he’ll never fess up after he’s done something wrong, even if he feels guilty and it means letting somebody else take the blame. He starts to overcome this by the end.
  • Noble Wolf: Most of the time, though Raul and White Wolf sometimes hover between Good Is Not Soft and outright Savage Wolf when threatened.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Even Dean Swift has to stop himself from calling the local bully “Mean Jack,” though Raul winds up dropping it near the end of the novel.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: When suffering from a concussion, Raul becomes more paranoid and emotional, which is only heightened by stress about the cougar and Bobo’s injury. This leads to him lashing out against Sparrow for losing the fishing pole that Raul carved him.
    • As in Bisclavret, the fact that a wolf acts perfectly tame most of the time but reacts violently to a certain person helps people figure out that something unusual is going on.
  • Our Werebeasts Are Different: Includes wolves, cougars, orcas, and apparently ravens. It seems to be a mixture of magic and science, and requires special light (which the forest provides through bioluminescent fungi), a special place (for Raul, the lighthouse) and clothes (taken off and put back on in order to shift).
  • Papa Wolf: Even when he's not a wolf, Raul is this to the younger kids, especially Sparrow.
    • Dean Swift is very protective of all the students under his care, often because of mistreatment or neglect from their actual parents.
    • Raul's father is also furious when he discovers that Vincent kept the secret about Raul's disappearance for so long.
  • Parental Neglect: Raul's father became so depressed after his wife's disappearance that he often forgot to bring Raul to school, and when a social worker came by Raul was dirty, wearing clothes that were too small and eating his bowl of cereal on the floor. Nowadays he’s stopped picking Raul up from boarding school on the weekends. This is actually because he was getting fake letters from Tuffman, indicating that Raul didn’t want to see him.
    • Mary Anne’s parents seem to be more traditional kind.
  • Parents as People: Raul is sometimes angry about his father’s Parental Neglect, but seems aware that it stems from depression. His father also wants to do more, but believes that Raul doesn’t want to see him.
  • Parents in Distress: Raul spends much of the book trying to save his mother from the cougar, especially since he knows how to get powered up by the Fresnal lens and she doesn't. The book ends with him also wanting to return her to human form, now that he knows that it's possible.
  • Place of Power: White Deer Woods. The lighthouse is specifically Raul’s “threshold,” the special place where he can shift to and from animal form. The Blackout Tunnel seems to be Tuffman's.

  • Punny Name: Tuffman, a former Olympian and current Sadist Teacher, is a “tough man.” It’s not his real name, so maybe he chose it on purpose.
  • Precocious Crush: Raul plans to marry one of Dean Swift’s three teenage daughters when grows up. (Or Mary Anne, who’s his own age, but he sees her as the long shot.)
  • Psychologist Teacher: Dean Swift is a bit more bumbling than some examples, but overall fits the bill.
  • Raised by Grandparents: Sparrow lives with his grandmother after his mother’s abuse comes to light.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Tuffman, who extends his life by eating spirit animals.
  • Reformed, but Rejected: Vincent does the right thing in the end, but Raul admits that he finds it hard to completely forgive him.
  • Savage Wolf: Though the story leans more toward Noble Wolf, Raul gets more angry in animal form; for example, after Tuffman and Vincent hunt him and White Wolf, he worries that he might have actually attacked them if they hadn’t escaped in time. He also compares his angrier moments as a human to feeling like his wolf self.
  • Secret-Keeper: Raul eventually tells Vincent about his power. Subverted because Vincent winds up telling Tuffman.
  • Shapeshifter Default Form: It's not really explained, but shapeshifters have a "first skin" and "second skin;" Raul is human in his first skin, but his mom and Dean Swift have that as their second skins. Whether this indicates the form that they were born as is unclear.
  • Shapeshifter Mode Lock: Raul believes that the white wolf that he sees during his transformations is his Missing Mom, having somehow undergone this. Then Raul is trapped for a "couple months" when Vincent steals his clothes, though he at least gets turned back. Tuffman gets sent to a zoo for the rest of his life.
  • Shapeshifting Excludes Clothing: Being loosely based on Bisclavret, the "recipe” to transform actually requires you to take off your clothes before it begins, then put them back on to turn back.
  • Schrödinger's Canon: The book does not reveal Raul's last name or exact age, though Evans revealed one of her query letters that refers to him as "10 year old Raul Bisclavret."
  • The Smart Guy: Mary Anne, who also seems to be trying to act more intellectual than a kid her age should.
  • Stacy's Mom: All of the older boys have this reaction when they first see Vincent’s mom without her motorcycle helmet. Raul’s narration even uses "Pretty Lady" as if it was her name.
  • Super-Senses: Shapeshifters like Raul seem to have unusually good hearing and smell even in human form.
  • Temporal Theme Naming: Dean Swift’s three daughters are named April, May and June.
  • Teachers Out of School: The first time that Raul’s father fails to pick him up, Dean Swift stays at the school with him over the weekend. The second time Raul actually goes home with him and meets his family.
  • Totally Not a Werewolf: Raul hates this term, because in his mind it implies all the tropes that he doesn’t like or that don’t apply to him (basically, being a half-wolf, half-human monster with no real control over oneself, as opposed to "just" being a boy who can turn into a wolf). Later on, when the line between his human and wolf halves starts to blur, he worries that he really is becoming one, however.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: Raul's transformations involve following a specific formula, which is part of the reason that he argues that he's different than (most common depictions of) a werewolf.
  • Werewolf Theme Naming: At one point, Mary Anne informs Raul that his name means “wolf.” He marvels at that for a bit, wondering “do our names call the animal? Or are we named for the animal we call?”
    • Vincent also has an Animal Motif with crows and ravens, which are associated with St. Vincent, as Mary Anne also notes.
    • Tuffman, a cougar, is really named Lionel.
    • Dean Swift is an eagle.
  • White Wolves Are Special: White Wolf, whom Raul believes to be his Missing Mom. We eventually learn that some shapeshifters become white "spirit animals," which are somehow different than others. White Wolf actually used to have gray fur, like Raul himself.