I picked up this li’l werewolf book off of a Twitter recommendation – vampires, ghouls, shifters – I expected something of a campy read. Who knew we would be exploring identity, found family, and processing trauma from various angles? If you plopped down a literary fiction tome and told me that we’d be dealing with complex themes like those, I’d say no thank you, I’ve read the news this week and I’m already a bit depressed. But give me some vampires, a full moon, and a happily ever after and that is the spoon full of sugar I need to tackle these issues.
Natalie Donovan is a young, transgender woman with a traumatic past – she’s looking for a fresh start, or at least to begin to heal from a lifetime of abuse, both physical and emotional. Wren Carne (yep, Carne) is a werewolf living in a small town of paranormal misfits, her dark past only a few counties away – she’s also had to escape an abusive situation because of her true nature; she’s an Alpha wolf who ought to be on the path to forming her own pack.
There’s quite a bit of trauma processing in this book between our two main characters, though Wren has already had some time and space to rebuild her life. At times Natalie’s point of view can really be heart wrenching because you’re watching in real time as her thoughts sometimes spiral with insecurity and feelings of worthlessness, or of being a burden to her friends. She believes she’s incapable of being loved, thanks in part to her abusive ex and her trashcan parents. Most of these issues are tied to her trans identity.
Let’s take a moment to talk about were-books with romantic leanings. I’m certainly no expert on them and haven’t read them extensively, but there often seems to be a power dynamic, the Alpha/Omega, dominant/submissive relationship between the love interests. This dynamic exists in some form in the book, though the problematic bits of such relationships are called out, especially the issue of consent. Wren is fleeing what is essentially a toxic, cult-like situation built on abuse of power and fear – she believes this is how all packs operate, and vows to never have one of her own. (The story also has the fated mate trope, which involves an inexplicable, magical sort of connection between our main characters.)
Our main characters have so much in common and a lot of the book explores those commonalities, even though the circumstances in their lives are quite different. Both are harboring secrets that they think stand in the way of their happiness; both have suffered at the hands of those who were supposed to protect and support them.
Pack of Her Own isn’t perfect, and there are a handful of inconsistencies that distracted me from time to time, little moments where one fact contradicted another. Also, for me, the ending felt a bit rushed; what I thought should be the epilogue was just a last chapter, so there’s a time jump and suddenly everything is great for Natalie and her new life, in a way that doesn’t jive with the tone and pace of the rest of the book. One of the last core scenes of the book is really intense, and could have used a smoother transition to prevent whiplash. But! The pros outweigh the cons by far. There’s big series potential here, so I’m curious to see where it goes!
Trigger warnings: depictions of past physical abuse, emotional abuse/manipulation, gaslighting, assault