“It didn’t feel strange for the three of them to be like that together. It seemed normal.”
In a word: Read the thing. This is a sweet one. Also it’s the first YA book I’ve ever read that featured a poly relationship, and an asexual character. I don’t really know much about poly relationships or how they work, but the one in this book seems accurate enough. This is a story about Finn, Ivan, and Adrian, three high school seniors who discover that it’s okay to be in love with more than one person at a time (so long as everyone is onboard). The three boys are adorable and so open in their affection and love for each other, which you don’t really see much of in YA books (I find). Even before they decide to start dating each other they are really close (especially Ivan and Adrian, who’ve known each other longer). Their relationship is really easy to get invested in; which is a good thing because it’s really the main focus of the story. Also the book kinda gives off the impression that there is a supernatural element of some sort going on. There is none of that. The story features wolves heavily but they are just normal wolves, no shifters. This is a simple story of teenagers falling in love, with a little twist. There’s some drama, some laughs, some fluff, and even some danger. It’s a nice story and a quick read. I really wish that it was a bit longer because I really would have loved to read more about Finn, Ivan, and Adrian and how they and their relationships grow and develop.
THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS
The Trigger Warning: This book contains descriptions and mentions of bullying and internalized acephobia.
The Boys: So this book doesn’t feature a couple as the main romance. Instead we have three boys all dating each other (I’m not sure what you’d call that; a triad? Whatever.). Finn Ryan has just moved with his family to Colorado from Texas for his father’s new job. It’s on the very day they arrive that Finn meets Ivan Dubovasky at the local farmer’s market. Ivan is there promoting the wolf and wolf-dog shelter his family owns. Finn is initially captivated by the wolf they’ve brought with them, but he soon finds himself enamored with Ivan as well. Adrian Smith, the third member of this romance, is Ivan’s best friend. Finn is actually a bit jealous of Ivan and Adrian’s relationship at first. Ivan and Adrian seem really close, especially with the way Ivan seems to be very protective of Adrian, who is a lot shyer than the other two boys. Theirs is a complicated relationship to get off the ground since there is three of them and one of them (Adrian) is asexual and suffers from low self-esteem. It’s the relationship between the three boys that’s the heart of the story. They all start off as friends, though it’s clear from the beginning that Finn is very interested in Ivan. However, Finn doesn’t really understand his feelings for Ivan since he’s previously only had relationships with girls. After a bit of soul-searching, thinking over the fact that he’s never before felt anything for anyone the way he feels about Ivan, he decides that he really wants to pursue a romantic relationship with Ivan. Happily, Ivan feels the same way. They get together easily enough, but they discover that they really don’t feel complete without Adrian with them. Adrian’s being asexual complicates things in the way that they don’t really understand how a relationship really works without sexual attraction (they’re only teenagers; after all, they won’t know everything). I really did enjoy reading about the way the three of them eventually came together as boyfriends. It’s obvious by the way they treat each other, with all the hugging and bed sharing and protective instincts going on, that they all feel very deeply for one another. I really wish we did get to see more of them together as boyfriends after the dust from all the drama settled. They were all adorable and sweet together when they all thought they were just friends; I can only imagine how much more it would have all been once they realized that they didn’t have to hold back their feelings.
The Bullies: There are a few very vague mentions of Finn being bullied at his old school, but that seems to be very minor in comparison to what Adrian has been facing at his high school. Ivan and Adrian don’t seem to have any friends aside from each other when Finn first meets them, and at school they’re referred to as ‘losers’. Adrian also seems terrified of being in school, to the point where he can’t attend gym class without Ivan (and now Finn) being there with him. The source of most of the bullying seems to come from two homeschooled-except-for-art-and-gym-class (no idea how that works) boys named Esteban and Channing Forsyth. We first meet Esteban and Channing when Finn, Ivan, and Adrian come across them while out hiking. Our first introduction to them is Adrian hiding in the trees because he’s too afraid of what they’ll do to him if he faces them. So we know right off the bat that they’re bad news. Esteban and Channing aren’t very likeable characters, they’re both rude and egotistical and, of course, bullies. They’ve apparently been torturing Adrian since they met and it doesn’t go into great detail about how (aside from throwing him in dumpsters), but whatever it is they’ve been doing has been enough to seriously affect Adrian. We get a little more personality from the bullies when one of them starts dating Finn’s younger sister, but that only comes up later and it’s not enough to really redeem him (in my opinion). Actually, that whole sub-plot (I’m gonna call it that) brings up something I’ve seen in a lot of children and YA books that I hate, which is the idea that the bully suddenly turns into one of the ‘good guys’ and that the people they’ve bullied should become friends with them. Finn’s parents want Finn to be nicer to Channing, but Finn doesn’t want to and I have to side with Finn here. All that Finn knows of Channing is that he’s a bully who gets a kick out of torturing Adrian and even when he says this to his parents they still want him to give Channing a chance. I say: fuck that noise. It comes up again later when Finn’s sister suggests that they (the boys with her and Channing) can all go out on a double date like they’re all friends. Why do YA books keep doing this? I am firmly on Team Adrian here; Channing can go fly a kite.
The Side Characters: There are actually very few side characters here. Finn, Ivan, and Adrian don’t really seem to interact with anyone aside from each other (which makes sense, I guess, they aren’t popular in school and they seem content with their own little pack); the story is really only about them and their relationship. Aside from the wolves and the bullies, the only other sides actually featured are the boys’ families. And even then it’s really only Finn’s family, since his is the only POV we really get. Adrian’s parents are barely even in the story, they get maybe two scenes. We see a bit more of Ivan’s parents since a lot of the story takes place at the wolf shelter, but they don’t really have much to do other than explain how the shelter runs and to help in the search for Adrian at the book’s climax. They all have names, they are really only used once or twice and I didn’t remember them. Finn’s parents also have names; I don’t remember them either, though they were used more. The names aren’t used as part of the narration so we don’t really need to know them I suppose. Anyway, Finn’s family. Finn’s father is mostly in the background. At first I thought maybe that Finn’s father wasn’t around, but he is, he just isn’t a really big part of Finn’s everyday life, or the plot. Finn is a lot closer to his mother, who actually gets a lot of screen time. She comes across as a bit overbearing, but it’s in the normal way you’d associate with the mother of a teenager. She’s also extremely accepting of Finn’s life choices. Like, it’s a good thing that she accepts Finn’s romantic relationship with Ivan and Adrian, and I don’t want her to be awful about it, but I found that she (and all the parents, really) was insanely accepting of 1) her son suddenly identifying as gay (out of nowhere), 2) her son getting his first boyfriend, and 3) her son suddenly in a poly relationship with two other boys when this is a concept that seems completely new to her. If you take out all the mentions of bullying this could probably take place in a utopia. Actually, Finn’s 15-year-old sister Shelby seems to have more questions about the whole thing (not that she’s any less accepting, but still). Honestly I was expecting the opposite to happen, what with the generational difference and all. But whatever. Speaking of Shelby, the way Finn and his mother initially spoke about her made me think she was gonna be younger than she turned out to be. She’s 15 and just starting high school and is really a ‘popular girl’ stereotype that really only changes a bit near the end when she calls Channing out on his bullying bullshit. I wasn’t really a fan of her character, but she’s not a bad one.
The Wolves: So there are wolves in this book. Several wolves. Ivan’s family owns and runs a shelter of some sort for wolves and wolf-dogs. When I first discovered this book I thought that there were gonna be werewolves, or wolf shifters at the very least. I was wrong. The wolves here are normal wolves, and the boys are normal boys. If you came in looking for shifters you will be disappointed. Anyway, wolves. There are a few packs living at the shelter, though we don’t see them all. The only wolves that actually get screen time are Midnight, who was being shown off at the local farmer’s market and is who initially drew Finn to Ivan; Metal, Blues, and Country, the first three wolves Finn actually interacts with at the shelter; and Singer, who seems to have basically adopted Adrian into her pack and is the helpful wolf mentioned in the summary. There are also three unnamed wolf cubs that are there to be fuzzy and adorable and symbolic. The wolves themselves aren’t the main focus of the story; I feel they’re mostly around to be symbolic and to set up the boys’ pack metaphor. The cubs are cute though.
The Sex: This is a YA book, there is no sex. Sex is talked about, and there’s a (mostly implied, it happens off-screen) blow job between Finn and Ivan, but other than that there is nothing. Finn, Ivan, and Adrian’s relationship isn’t really about sex anyway. Between Adrian being bullied and the three of them trying to figure their relationship out it barely comes up.
The Writing: I don’t want to say the writing is bad in this, it isn’t, but it’s not exactly the best I’ve read either. It’s a bit simplistic (maybe?), but maybe that’s because this is a YA book? I dunno. Anyway, the story and the three leads more than make up for it. This was an easy read as well. I would’ve liked more in regards to the ending, though. I felt that it ended kind of abruptly. It ends right after the major drama of the story and then there’s no epilogue, so it felt kinda rushed. It leaves us, and the boys, in a good place though, so I guess I can’t complain too much.
[Running With the Pack was published September 8, 2016 by Harmony Ink Press, it is available both in print and as an ebook]