Review: Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater

18406862

Hardcover, 357 pages
Published July 1st 2014 by Scholastic Press
Source: Publisher

“Wait —” Sam said. “Have you seen Isabel yet?”
My fingers still felt the shape of her. “Da. We embraced.
Angels sang, Sam. Those fat ones. Cherubs. Cherubim. I
must go.”
“Don’t bite people.”

Ostensibly, Sinner is a companion novel to The Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy but I haven’t read that and maybe it would be a good idea to have some idea of what the trilogy is about (hint: werewolves) before you go hurtling into Cole St. Clair’s world but even if you don’t, don’t sweat it because this novel does function as a stand-alone.

The success of Sinner for me was largely due to the characters. I am not a fan of romance; I hate mush. However I think Isabel, the female protagonist, might hate mush more than I do which made reading this book way more fun for me. Before I get into the meat of the review, let’s talk about the story.

Sinner is less plot oriented and more character driven. There are car races (it’s a Stiefvater novel, of course there are car races) but generally, the novel is an exploration of human desire and weakness. How much of one’s happiness is one responsible for? How much does the fear of happiness hold you back? What about the fear of failing? When you have been to the edge and fallen over it, is there really any way you can get back on your feet?

Cole St. Clair was a rockstar, a comet racing madly across the sky and then he crashed, literally, on stage and stayed down, all his lights dimming. His fangirls thought he died, as did his parents and he didn’t bother to let anyone know otherwise. Things happened; he learned to replace drugs with turning furry once in a while; he made the acquaintance of Isabel (and fell in love with her) and then they separated etc. This all happens in The Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy. Sinner opens with Cole St. Clair coming to L.A. to record an album, film a reality TV show and, most importantly, meet Isabel. His biggest challenge will be to not repeat the mistakes he made the first time around and to keep clean and away from drugs.

The novel is told from dual perspectives so we get to hear the story as both Cole and Isabel experience it.  Let’s talk about Cole.

“I asked,”Are you going to pick up next time I call you?”
”I did this time didn’t I?”
“Say yes.”
“Yes. Conditionally yes.”……
…”What conditions.?”
“Sometimes you do things like call me forty times a day and leave obscene voicemails and that’s why I don’t pick up.”
“Ridiculous. That doesn’t sound like me. I’d never call an even number of times.”

Cole is erratic and bright. He is like swallowing a fire cracker just to see what it tastes like. His struggles with his own weaknesses feel authentic and I felt that his over-the-top personality is a shield he hides behind to protect himself and others from his own destructive tendencies. His ennui feeds his dependence on narcotics and perhaps any doctor would diagnose him with some kind personality disorder but he reads as real.

As does Isabel. If Cole is the modern Mad Hatter than Isabel is an Ice Queen who may hide a warm heart very deep under her glacial exterior. It was refreshing to have a female protagonist who exults in being not nice. She is all edges and Cole is probably one of the few people who can coax out her soft sides. She read more authentic than Cole because I could understand the reason for her caustic and abrasive nature. She is the sum of her experiences and her experiences (which contain a dead brother, fighting parents and general mistrust of the humankind) have not been good.

Cole and Isabel coming together is sort of like a thorn and a balloon trying to be friends. There are bound to be explosions (and actually there is one). But the funny thing is, even when you expect them to not fit together as they probably have the most dysfunctional relationship I’ve read recently, they actually do though of course, the road to forever is not smooth. But then, we don’t expect it to be. I like that Isabel has her own life as does Cole and that them being together is more about working through their differences than just being together without any conflicts or fights.

The novel is also a commentary on fan culture. There is a bit of snark involved but a poignant scene where Cole is thanked by a fan whom he inspired to go to rehab and become clean speaks volumes about the influence one person has on another unintentionally and perhaps unwillingly.

If I had any quibbles with the book, it would be that I couldn’t pin down Cole’s age. Isabel is nineteen and Cole might be in his late 20s or mid-20s. I’m not sure but if anyone knows, please tell me.

I would recommend this book to you if you like vibrant and loopy characters, stories about relationships not necessarily romance. And if you like good writing that can make you swoon if you are not looking out. I’m just saying.