Book Review: Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones

A young boy has grown up listening to his grandfather's tall tales about werewolves only to discover one fateful day that they were all true. From then on, it's a life on the run with his aunt and uncle, trying to stay one step ahead of being caught, moving from place to place, waiting for his own time to shift, and trying to find his place in the family and the world.

Book Review: Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones | reading, books, book reviews, paranormal/urban fantasy, werewolves
Title: Mongrels
Pages: 322
My Rating: 4.5 Stars
More Info: Goodreads, Amazon, Publisher


This. This was the werewolf book I’d been looking for. It was messed up and beautiful and brutal and touching and I loved it.

This was one of those books where the characters were so completely different from myself, their lives so different (and I love those kinds of books because they let me see through a whole new perspective). They didn’t have enough money for food half the time and had to hunt it down or steal it. They bounced around from place to place, living in falling apart, pest-ridden trailers and duplexes with appliances that didn’t work. Libby, Darren, and the protagonist all dropped out of high school before they reached 17. They stole and killed and committed who knows what other crimes. That was their life. That was all they knew.

And the unnamed protagonist’s voice was fantastic. The way he saw things. The way he looked up to Darren so much. The way he wanted to be a werewolf like his aunt and uncle so badly that he molded his life around it and thought of everything in his life as werewolf things. And Darren? He was a piece of work. I don’t think I’ll ever see a strawberry wine cooler again without thinking of him. He stole the show a bit, and he would be pleased if he knew that. I felt invested in all three main characters though. They were scarred and flawed and not always the best of people, but I was rooting for them.

“Bears and wolves aren’t meant to get along,” Darren said. The cool way he looked to the left and touched a spot above his eyebrow when he said it, it sounded like a line he’d been saving his whole long way home.

Possibly the best thing about this book though was the heart-warming family aspect. These people weren’t perfect, but damn, did they love each other. Any time one of them got into trouble—and they got into trouble a lot, especially Darren—the others were there to save them. Wrestling bears, crashing through walls, running into burning buildings—it didn’t matter what they had to do, they were there.

As for the paranormal aspect, this was a portrayal of werewolves that was gritty and brutal. This was not a sexy or glamorous ability. There were some disturbing things in this book, including animal cruelty and a lot of dead dogs. But this was the kind of portrayal I wanted. I also loved the creativity and thought and attention to detail that went into all of it.

When Darren came back in the morning, I was standing at the El Camino’s tailgate looking for my math book. Werewolves don’t need math though.

This book was a little strange though in that it wasn’t your typical plot-based story. It took place over the course of eight or nine years and was just about the protag’s unusual life, about a boy finding his place in his family and the world. The story was messed up at times and a little bittersweet, yet touching. It was mostly linear, but every other chapter was a little vignette of something from the protag’s past (related to werewolves). I enjoyed all of it though.

Last but not least, I loved how the writing was raw and gritty and beautiful all at once.

Overall, I was completely engrossed by the beautiful writing, the brutal portrayal of werewolves, the flawed characters, and the touching family aspect!


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  1. Christy LoveOfBooks

    Ohhh an unnamed protagonist! I don’t know why and it seems random, but this is one of my favorite things in books. And I want to know about the strawberry wine. 😀 This sounds really good and looks like a pretty quick read.

    1. Kristen Burns

      I feel like we all have at least one highly specific, random thing we like lol. I haven’t had a strawberry wine cooler in so long, but I kind of want one now after reading about them so much in this book, haha. It’s an amazing book!

  2. Greg

    Ooh a gritty take. And the family elements sound strong too, which is kinda cool. I might get this one, I could use a good werewolf book. I like the werewolves in UF books for the most part, but sometimes they’e more shifters, you know? A subtle difference but the feel is there, you know? Like they don’t always feel like WEREWOLVES if that makes sense. Sounds like that’s not a problem here lol.

    Love that quote! “Werewolves don’t need math though” 🙂

    1. Kristen Burns

      The family relationships were so great. This is such an amazing book! I totally agree with you. You’re the only person I know of who feels the same way I do about the whole shifter vs werewolf thing. Like, I use them interchangeably sometimes just cuz everyone else does, but there’s a difference to me too. The shifters… it’s more like they’re humans who just happen to be able to shift into a different form sometimes, but they’re still human on the inside. And maybe they have a good sense of smell or something lol. But no, this was more werewolf.

      There were a lot of great quotes. It was hard to choose only two lol. Glad I chose a good one!

  3. Pingback: » Metaphors and Moonlight Stephen Graham Jones

    1. Kristen Burns

      YAY. If gritty werewolves is what you want, I think you’ll be happy with this! I can’t wait to see what you think! Feel free to DM if you have extra thoughts during/after reading and want to chat XD

  4. Lindsi

    Love the fact that the family aspect of the book was wonderful, but not so excited about the gritty, realistic portrayal of werewolves, lol. I’m so happy you enjoyed this one! It sounds intense and unforgettable.

    L @ Do You Dog-ear?

  5. Luna & Saturn

    This sounds like such a nice book – we’ve never read a book with an unnamed protagonist, so that’s really cool. Glad you’re always reviewing books we’re not usually exposed to, because that means we can widen our reading circles. Yup, touching family relationships has already got us hooked, and we haven’t read a werewolf book in ages, so we’re gonna find this one. Nice review!

    ~ Luna & Saturn @ Pendragons

    1. Kristen Burns

      It was my first time, that I can remember, reading a book with an unnamed protag. Honestly, I don’t think I even realized until I was writing my review that his name was never used. The family aspect was wonderful, and it’s definitely not your typical werewolf book, but it is a great one! I hope you both like it if you give it a try 🙂

  6. Danya @ Fine Print

    Brutal, beautiful, and touching is the perfect combo of words to describe Stephen Graham Jones’ work! I read Mapping the Interior last year and it rocked me to my core, it was so messed up and profound. The characters weren’t always easy to like but they stuck with me. Clearly I need to pick this one up as well…and not just because I want to know what the deal is with the strawberry wine cooler!

    1. Kristen Burns

      I looked into his other books, but none of them really seemed like my kinda books since they’re mostly more horror, it seems. I might have to try that one though if it is also messed up but profound. Sounds like this author just knows how to write!

  7. Tizzy

    Hmm, I might check this out, I’ve been craving a werewolf story and I like the idea of one that doesn’t portray it as sexy. The family dynamic sounds really good as well. The animal cruelty is likely to upset me, though.

  8. Crystal @ Lost in Storyland

    I love books with heart-warming family aspects! I’m also a big fantasy reader and have been looking for a read that doesn’t glamorize paranormal creatures. It’ll be interesting to read a book that isn’t plot based but more focused on a boy’s coming of age. 🙂

    I’m off to add this to my TBR list!

  9. Cee Arr

    I feel like I’ve heard of this in the context of Native American authors… *scurries to Google* yep, Stephen Graham Jones is Piegan Blackfeet Native. How the hell did I remember that? I think I read about it well over a year ago, in a post that Naz @ Read Diverse Books wrote. Sometimes I worry that my memory throws out important stuff in favour of a giant book catalogue 😉

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yeah I read in his bio or somewhere that he’s Native American. Don’t worry, I can’t even remember what jobs my friends have or what state/city they live in, yet my brain is full of books and authors and characters lol.

    1. Kristen Burns

      I don’t even read a lot of coming of age books, but this was so good, and I loved the family aspect! Definitely not your usual shifter story. Thanks!

  10. Lola

    I am glad to hear you found a werewolf book you enjoyed as I know you usually don’t really enjoy werewolf books. It sure can be great to read about characters that are so different from yourself. I like it books when characters are so close and stand up for each other. The family aspect sounds very well done here. That’s interesting that it took place over such a long time period, you don’t see that often in books.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thanks! It turns out, I think I do like werewolf books, I just needed to find the right kinda portrayal of them for my tastes. The family aspect was super cute in this one. I don’t always like books that span long periods of time like that, but this one worked!

  11. Olivia Roach

    I struggle to enjoy werewolf books and I can only think of one or two that I did enjoy – and even then werewolves were like secondary characters and not the main plot. I’m not a fan of unnamed book characters as main characters but I am thinking I might still try this one. Because I want to read a good werewolf book, and knowing you enjoyed this one so much makes me feel like it could be one for me too. Great review!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Same. I’ve never been a werewolf/shifter fan, until very recently! It turns out I just needed to find the right kind of werewolf books. I had never read about an unnamed character, but it turns out I don’t mind it. I don’t think I even realized it until I went to write about the book. I hope you love this one if you try it!