Squad by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I am very much of two minds about this book. On the one hand, it is an examination of feeling alone and finding a place to call one's own, and the suffocating pressure one's peers can exert. It's also about finding the strength to break away from a toxic situation. At the end, it's a sweet love story between the protagonist Becca and her friend and fellow pack-mate (in the literal and metaphorical teenage-girl sense) Marley.
New girl Becca is drawn into the orbit of three of the most popular girls in her new school: Marley, Amanda and Arianna. The story takes a very dark turn when those three are revealed to be female werewolves: werewolves who do the usual thing of turning once a month, but who also hunt human flesh under the full moon. Human flesh belonging to date-rapey or sexual-assault-minded teenage boys, who get torn apart for their real and/or imagined sins.
In one sense Becca is coerced into joining the pack, as she's intimidated and threatened into agreeing to be bitten and turned; but in another she says "yes" without too much protest. Then she runs with the pack for several months, participating in the monthly ritual of hunting and killing.
It all comes to a head when Becca kills Thatcher, the boyfriend of Arianna, the alpha of the pack. This is a genuine accident; he was coming on to her, she shoves him away with her superhuman werewolf strength, and he falls and breaks his neck. The girls hide his body in the woods and for the next several days go through a ritual of fake concern and then fake mourning after the body is found. They try to skip a month and hold their hunger at bay, but Arianna lures a boy into the woods for another kill...and is confronted by the previous alpha, Allyson Green, who went on to college and appointed Arianna in her stead. Allyson kills Arianna for the sin of being sloppy and threatening the pack's existence, and Marley and Becca are offered the only way out--to return to being human by eating their alpha's heart.
Newly human again and also a couple, Marley and Becca go to prom. Becca clears the air with her mother, and the book ends with Marley and Becca going skinny-dipping at the lake.
This ending left a very bad taste in my mouth. Seriously? They fully participated in the pack life, in several murders, and get to walk away scot-free, with no consequences? (And apparently precious little guilt, from the few panels we see after their return to being human.) It's nice that they ended up together--Marley is, I think, the most well-developed character of the bunch--but there's way too much darkness in this story for the forced light, fluffy ending.
The art is marginally better, but not outstanding. Maybe I'm not the target audience for this particular story (although I read a lot of YA) but it feels like this book needed to be rethought from the ground up.
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