Allen and Unwin
Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack
The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group is a novel that perfectly catches the thought processes and mental “voice” of a teenage boy, and blends a fantasy plot with a very solid realistic attitude regarding what it would really be like to be caught up in something like this.
Toby – Tobias Vandevelde – wakes up in hospital with no memory of the night before. This is particularly unpleasant because not only is he in hospital, but he was brought there after being found naked in a dingo pen at a local wildlife park. Which is just the sort of story every thirteen year old boy wants his friends to hear about – not. In fact, Toby quickly convinces himself that it must have been the result of a prank by his friends, and it’s a fairly nasty sinking feeling when they convince him they’re as surprised as he is.
Not everyone seems that surprised though. In particular, a strange priest and his even stranger friend Reuben accost Toby and seem to know a lot about the mysterious “condition” they insist he has. Although it seems a very bad idea to have more to do with these weirdos, Toby can’t resist trying to find out more about what they know. And when they convince him that he might indeed really be a werewolf – well, that’s when things really go to hell.
In the first few pages of the novel I thought the writing style was a little simplistic, but once I realised I was in the head of a thirteen year old boy – and got a little further into the story – I forgot about that altogether. Jinks has captured very well the mixture of worldliness and inexperience that characterises many youngsters entering their teen years, and it makes Toby a very realistic hero. He’s not stupid, and quickly picks up on the hints his mysterious new friends are dropping – but he’s also old enough to be a bit cynical and not automatically believe what he’s told without a bit more proof. He falls for the “authority” of some adults simply because they are adults, but also doesn’t continue blindly to obey adults when it becomes clear that they don’t mean him well.
One of the delightful things about the novel is that although it’s action packed, it also highlights just how uncomfortable and unpleasant adventure can be. Sure, it might sound good. But when you’re actually involved in car chases and crashes and fights and escapes – well, you’ll probably wind up battered, hungry, tired, and rather bad-tempered. Jinks captures Toby’s attitude to this discovery in a way that I found particularly enjoyable.
Toby is a very sympathetic hero, and he’ll engage both young readers (this is nominally a young adult novel) and older readers in his plight. He’s so very real that you can’t help liking him. Teenagers will probably see themselves in him, and older readers will see the sort of teenager you enjoy spending time with and think will grow up well.
The plot is strong and will keep readers interested. Early on there isn’t a lot of action, as Toby is busy learning about the fact that he might be a werewolf (and desperately denying it). However, this is depicted well and will keep you involved with the story. Once the action starts, it’s pretty relentless. It’s again depicted quite realistically
At this point I found myself noticing that it was a very Australian novel; it wasn’t obtrusive but once the action moved out of the city, it felt like a setting that couldn’t appear anywhere but Australia. Late in the novel it also appeared that The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group might have links to other Jinks’ novels (notably The Reformed Vampire Support Group). I haven’t read anything else by Jinks and it didn’t affect my ability to follow or enjoy this book; if my impression is right, then it’s a link and not something this novel relies on for coherence.
I enjoyed this novel a lot. It was fun, and Toby was one of the most vivid depictions of young teenagers I’ve come across for a while. It was easy to get swept up in the plot, and Jinks grounded this well enough to make her fantasy plot convincing. For younger readers, it doesn’t talk down to them, and offers some non-judgemental thoughts about things they might genuinely have to deal with (like drug use among acquaintances). Many younger readers will enjoy this a lot, and so will more than a few older readers.