Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Book Review: Hemlock by Kathleen Peacock

In this world, it is a known and accepted fact that werewolves exist.  If you receive a scratch or a bite from a werewolf you must turn yourself in, for you now suffer from LS (lupine syndrome).  Failure to report is a crime.  The infected are sent off to rehabilitation camps and never heard from again.  Mac shouldn’t care about all of this, but when her best friend is murdered by a werewolf the world begins crumbling around her.  It seems that everyone has a secret and she isn’t sure who she can trust.

Mac, short for Mackenzie, is haunted by visions of her murdered best friend, Amy.  It’s been five months since her brutal murder and the remaining three in their group of 4 best friends are struggling.  Jason has taken to alcohol to drown his sorrows and Kyle is wrestling with an ex-girlfriend that changes his life forever.  They are barely holding it together when a new werewolf attack occurs and they decide to try and take care of the problem on their own, though in very different ways. 

It would be easy to dismiss Hemlock as another werewolf story; but it is in fact an engaging mystery/thriller with a supernatural twist.  This is a title that I think teens will be asking for and will enjoy.  There are some popular ya conventions that occur in Hemlock: most adults are conveniently absent or are villainous parents, there is of course a love triangle or two, and there is a lot of teenage alcohol consumption involved.  But I think the characters are well developed and relatable, there are some unseen twists that occur to keep you wondering who done it, and I think the prejudice against humans with lupine syndrome would make for some interesting discussions about prejudice and tolerance.

In fact, there is a group in Hemlock known as the Trackers who are definitely reminiscent of white supremacists.  Although in this case they have the authority behind their actions.  The concept of the rehabilitation camps described brought to mind the Japanese Internment camps of World War II.  It would be interesting to hear what teen readers thought about these elements and then show them the parallels between the world of Hemlock and the real world’s history of violence and discrimination towards those perceived as being “other”.

The mystery portion of this title is revealed by book’s end, it is clear who do it and why, but some of the emotional elements are left hanging and the book is set up as the first book in a trilogy.  To be honest, a couple of the twists (the who) are actually bold storytelling moves, although the ultimate why is a fairly reasonable turn of events.  There is a part of me that feels as a reader that this would work well, perhaps even better, as a stand alone title; but it is hard to determine the truth of this statement without having read the remaining two titles in the trilogy. Peacock is a good storyteller and she may have some tricks up her sleeve I can’t even begin to predict.

The other device that worked really well was the idea of the “ghost” of Amy as a sort of subconscious for Mac.  Amy’s presence casts a nice, dark psychological pall over the story arc.  Amy’s personality combined with the reminders of her death were twisty in all the right ways.

Hemlock has all the elements necessary – good pacing, interesting characters, swoony romance – to be a popular read and it is a satisfying supernatural mystery.  Twilight and the Wolves of Mercy Falls fans will appreciate this addition to the werewolf genre, but any reader looking for a supernatural mystery will be a satisfied reader as well.  I think a tighter resolution at the end would have elevated this as a story, but I also think that teens will like the world of Hemlock and it’s 3 main characters enough that they will come back for the sequels and in the end that’s what we want – to keep those teens reading.  4 out of 5 stars.