Prism Tours: This is not a Werewolf Story

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This is Not a Werewolf Story
By Sandra Evans

This Middle Grade Fantasy is perfect for Halloween! Full of fun and mystery, and set at a boarding school where everything isn’t quite as it seems. Read the excerpt and enter the giveaway below…

This Is Not a Werewolf StoryThis is Not a Werewolf Story
by Sandra Evans
Middle Grade Fantasy
Hardcover & ebook, 352 pages
July 26th 2016 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

This is the story of Raul, a boy of few words, fewer friends, and almost no family. He is a loner—but he isn’t lonely. All week long he looks after the younger boys at One Of Our Kind Boarding School while dodging the barbs of terrible Tuffman, the jerk of a gym teacher.

Like every other kid in the world, he longs for Fridays, but not for the usual reasons. As soon as the other students go home for the weekend, Raul makes his way to a lighthouse deep in the heart of the woods. There he waits for sunset—and the mysterious, marvelous phenomenon that allows him to go home, too. But the woods have secrets . . . and so does Raul. When a new kid arrives at school, they may not stay secret for long.

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Chapter 1

This is the chapter where the new kid runs so fast, Raul decides to talk

New kid. New kid. The words fly around the showers and sinks. I can almost see them, flying up like chickadees startled from the holly tree in the woods.

All the boys are in the big bathroom on the second floor, washing up before breakfast. The littlest kids stand on tiptoe to peek out the windows that look onto the circle driveway.

I pick Sparrow up and hold him so he can see. He’s the littlest of the littles but the kid is dense–like a ton of bricks.

I can’t believe my eyes. No kid has ever come to the school on the back of a Harley. Not in all the years I’ve been here, and I’ve been here longer than anyone. The driver spins the back wheel and a bunch of gravel flies up.

The new kid is holding onto the waist of the driver. He must have a pretty good grip because the driver looks over his shoulder and tries to peel the kid’s fingers away one by one. Then the driver takes off his helmet. We all gasp, because it turns out the driver is a lady with long straight black hair.

Next to me Mean Jack whistles. “What a doll!”

Mean Jack thinks he’s a mobster. A made man, that’s what he calls himself. I call him a numbskull, but not out loud.

About the Author

Sandra Evans is a writer and teacher from the Pacific Northwest. Her forthcoming middle grade novel, This is Not a Werewolf Story (Simon & Schuster July 2016), was inspired by her favorite 12th century French tale, Bisclavret, by Marie de France. Born in Washington state, Sandra spent her childhood on U.S. Navy bases from Florida to Hawaii, and returned to the Northwest as a teenager. Since then, she has lived and traveled in France and Europe, but has never strayed far for long from the Puget Sound region.


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Through Uncanny Valley

“But in general, take my advice, when you meet anything that is going to be Human and isn’t yet, or used to be Human once and isn’t now, or ought to be Human and isn’t, you keep your eyes on it and feel for your hatchet.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

I should say, in fairness, that every type of story opens windows on human nature. I hope I can add with accuracy, if not objectivity, that speculative fiction holds a special ability to highlight certain of humanity’s psychological quirks. It highlights, for example, the psychological quirk that humans are unnerved by things that ought to be human and don’t quite make it, both pretend-humans and ex-humans.

The horror genre makes the most hay of this phenomenon, what with zombies and vampires and ghosts – all ex-humans, in one way or another. It would be appropriate, given the season, to focus on horror and its almost epic exploitation, and thus illumination, of humanity’s dread of the almost-human. But I won’t, because I have never really liked any ghost story since A Christmas Carol, and I hate zombies beyond my power of expression, and although the memories will someday mercifully fade, vampires inevitably call up Twilight.

Other forms of speculative fiction make milder appeals to the same uneasiness. C.S. Lewis wove it into the White Witch. Folk lore and fairy tales, the progenitors of modern speculative fiction, have their own examples (including ghosts, of course, but I’m still not going to talk about them). Among the most compelling examples is that of the hollow women: beautiful and smiling, but their backs are hollow. At their worst, they are malevolent seductresses, and pitiless even when they are harmless. Changelings, both infant and adult, are in their own way even more sinister: The cold, creeping feeling of a stranger who should be human can’t match the horror of a loved one who isn’t.

Science fiction has made its own variation of the theme. The (in)famous Pod People are only a refitted version of changelings, replicas all the more chilling for their precision. Sci-fi has accumulated standbys and tropes for things that are, in Lewis’ words, going to be human and aren’t yet: aliens that sham humanity, human bodies hijacked by parasites, robots that are human at the first glance and not at the second.

Robots merit particular attention because here science caught up with fiction. Masahiro Mori, a Japanese roboticist, theorized nearly fifty years ago that robots, approaching human likeness but not quite reaching it, would fall into the uncanny valley. In the uncanny valley, both too much and not enough like humans, robots provoke unease and revulsion. Mori speculated that our “eerie sensation” is an instinct that protects us from the proximal dangers of corpses and members of different species. Some think it may be triggered by the dissonance between the human and inhuman mingled together.

Whether dissonance, survival instinct, or a deeper, more mysterious instinct, the phenomenon is real. There is a queasy line between us and not-us, between human and once-human. We felt it in our stories long before scientists labeled it.

Once Upon A(nother) Time

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away … fairy tales happen. It’s the best place for it, too; anything can happen there.

The classic fairy tale opening, like the classic fairy tale ending (happily ever after), is more than form. It is substance, part of what a fairy tale is meant to be. Once upon a time could be any time, and a land far away could be anywhere, and that is the point. Unbound by specifics, free of all the maps and history books, fairy tales are timeless and universal.

It is easy, in fact, to avoid specifics, though not everyone can do so with equal art. Sid Fleischman managed the fairy tale universality with unusual elegance in The Whipping Boy, which opens, “The young prince was known here and there (and just about everywhere else) as Prince Brat …”

A lesser writer would have said that the young prince was known throughout the kingdom as Prince Brat – “the kingdom” being where every fairy tale takes place, if it doesn’t take place in the forest. The kingdom is invariably ruled by The King, The Queen, and usually by The Prince, even when the heroine marries him. (Names are part of the frivolous small talk dispensed with in fairy tale romance, which goes from first sight to lifelong commitment in less time than it takes the average person to choose dinner off a menu.)

Disney is, of course, a passing master of such conventions. In its live-action Cinderella – which is, if you count right, its latest fairy tale – Disney added a new touch of universality that, while probably unintentional, is brilliant. Cinderella, though among the most archetypal of European fairy tales, was gifted with a multiracial cast, and it feels all the more universal for that. Disney followed the same policy in the new Beauty and the Beast, but having haphazardly mixed the fairy tale up with history, the effect is jarring more than anything else.

The creative decision to anchor Beauty and the Beast to history was not necessarily a bad one, but it illustrates the meaning of once upon a time. There is power hidden in fairy tale simplicity. By gliding airily beyond the real world, fairy tales set the forgiving terms on which they are to be taken. They spurn details and outrun cross-examination. Meanwhile, the more factual approach of the quasi-historical Beauty and the Beast begs for cross-examination. It makes you wonder: Is it possible that the French Catholic Church (a state church!) was ordaining black priests three hundred years ago? Were spinsters turned out to beg in the streets, honestly? What made the Prince a prince? If he was collecting taxes, why didn’t anybody notice when he stopped? Shouldn’t the townspeople have been holding parades and throwing confetti in the air to celebrate their tax-free existence? Does anybody in the entire Disney corporation realize that a thousand years before Belle blazed her feminist trail, Charlemagne set up schools in France that educated girls?

A historical film or novel could answer these questions. A fairy tale doesn’t have to. We can wonder if the eighteenth-century France we are seeing is the eighteenth-century France that really was, because there is an answer to that question. There is no answer, and no question, of whether we are seeing a true portrayal of a far-away land, once upon a time.

And so fairy tales, placeless and timeless, tell their stories beyond the reach of such concerns. Once upon a time, Cinderella danced, and Rumpelstiltskin spun straw into gold, and Snow White ate the apple and Rapunzel let down her hair …