cover image Howl


Shaun David Hutchinson. Simon & Schuster, $19.99 (432p) ISBN 978-1-5344-7092-7

After Virgil Knox’s parents separate, the queer 15-year-old and his father leave Seattle for Merritt, Fla., where they move in with Knox’s paternal grandparents. Before school starts, Virgil attends a party at which the mayor’s jock son, Jarrett Hart, tries to kiss him. When Virgil rebuffs his advances, citing a boyfriend back home, Jarrett claims he was just messing with Virgil and swears him to secrecy: “I ain’t no homo.” Virgil blacks out shortly thereafter, coming to in a nearby swamp where he is attacked by a monster. Bitten, scratched, and bloody, he limps to town, where nobody believes his tale. The cops dismiss him, his family blames him and tells him to stop talking about it, and his classmates bully him relentlessly. Virgil begins to spiral, equal parts scared that the monster will return and that he will become one himself. Though the mystery is imperfectly executed, Hutchinson (Before We Disappear) makes clever use of metaphor to illustrate the trauma and stigma that can follow survivors of sexual assault. Virgil’s first-person narration is relatable and sincere, the vividly sketched characters—most of whom cue white—are realistically flawed, and Hutchinson writes with poignancy, urgency, and compassion. Ages 14–up. Agent: Katie Shea Boutillier, Donald Maass Literary. (Apr.)