Monday, December 12, 2016

Earning My Spots by Mark Eastburn, 2016

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Sam and his family are the only werehyenas in their town, and they do their best to keep up their cover in front of the humans while the other more aggressive shifters mock the werehyena family for being weak and passive. But Sam sees no other life for himself, as he believes what he is told: he is inferior to the other shifters.

One night, a pack of shifters raids Sam’s house and takes his family, leaving him all alone. With the help of some new friends, Sam sets off on a journey from Vermont to South America to rescue his family. Along the way, he meets various shifters who aid him on his quest. He even meets a tribe of werehyenas in Louisiana who teach him how powerful his kind actually is and how far his ancestry goes back. From them, Sam learns he has a great destiny to fulfill.

As Sam draws closer to finding his family, he begins to understand how different the world of shifters is that exists outside of his small hometown. Shifters are tired of humans destroying their homes, and they want not only revenge but also to force humans into submission. It becomes clear that Sam is the only one who can stop a war that’s on the brink of erupting.

Fans of the Spirit Animals and Warriors series will enjoy accompanying Sam on his quest as he discovers not only that his destiny and inner strength are greater than he thought, but also that being a werehyena is not as laughable as he assumed.

(288 pages)

Okay, when the description said Earning My Spots was for fans of the Spirit Animals series, I thought that meant it would be one of those fun middle-grade novels about kids with cool powers who go on a quest to save the world and discover they're way secretly extraordinary.

And I guess on a certain level that's exactly what Earning My Spots was, but it was just so much more bizarre and, well, strange than anything I would have expected. In this case, that's not really a good thing.

I have to admit, when I had to set the book down at the 75% mark I wasn't even sure whether I would pick it back up. Things get really, really weird when Sam meets the other werehyenas and starts tapping into his heritage. At first, it was actually really cool that he's white in human form while the other werehyenas are black (which happened because his black ancestry was diluted through intermingling with white families). It's neat to watch Sam discover that he has ancestors from an entirely different continent from the one he thought was descended from, and to learn about the culture that was passed down in his blood. It makes me a little jealous because I think it would be so meaningful to have more than just European blood running through my veins!

Anyway, things took a turn for the weird when the other hyenas gave Sam some magical items to help him on his journey and provided him with spirits to protect him. I don't want to spoil too much of what happens after that, but let's just leave it at the fact that things are very mystical and strange. I don't believe in mysticism, and I was a little uncomfortable with the whole "spirits passed down from our ancestors" concept. I also thought it seemed a little forced: Sam himself didn't really undergo any character development. Instead, the spirits and "instinct" seemed to alter his personality just enough to be convenient in whatever scene he was currently in. I would have liked him to gain his own backbone, rather than just relying entirely on the beliefs and customs of a bunch of shifters he'd never met before who just happened to turn into the same animal that he did.

Also, Sam's mother and sister were pretty horrible to him during the small snippets we get of them in the beginning of the book. He claims that they actually were nice to him sometimes, but doesn't offer any concrete examples; I'm a little skeptical of his driving need to rescue his family when the only times he ever thinks of them are when he's thinking about how mean the females were to him. Love is about companionship and sacrifice, not just beating each other up all the time!

So yeah, this one's definitely going to the Little Free Library. I feel bad because I still think the basic concept could have been really cool and meaningful. There's so much meat buried in there, about cultural heritage and finding your place in the world and protecting the environment and about a million other things, but they're obscured by the weird plot developments and just plain strange scenarios that I'm gonna have to call this book a solid miss.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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