Book Review: Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses by Kristen O'Neal

Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illness  by Kristen O'Neal Genre:  YA comedy/horror Synopsis:   Priya worked hard to pursue her prem...

Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illness by Kristen O'Neal

Genre: YA comedy/horror

Priya worked hard to pursue her premed dreams at Stanford, but the fallout from undiagnosed Lyme disease sends her back to her childhood home in New Jersey during her sophomore year—and leaves her wondering if she’ll ever be able to return to the way things were. Thankfully she has her online pen pal, Brigid, and the rest of the members of “oof ouch my bones,” a virtual support group that meets on Discord to crack jokes and vent about their own chronic illnesses.

When Brigid suddenly goes offline, Priya does something out of character: she steals the family car and drives to Pennsylvania to check on Brigid. Priya isn’t sure what to expect, but it isn’t the horrifying creature that's shut in the basement. With Brigid nowhere to be found, Priya begins to puzzle together an impossible but obvious truth: the creature might be a werewolf—and the werewolf might be Brigid. As Brigid's unique condition worsens, their friendship will be deepened and challenged in unexpected ways, forcing them to reckon with their own ideas of what it means to be normal.

Content/Trigger Warnings: Mentions of animal harm/death, Chronic illness

Overall rating:  ★★★★☆

As a person with a chronic illness, I had such anticipation for Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses. I really enjoyed so much about this book. It was quirky and fun, but also dealt with the sadness of living with a hand your were dealt that makes life just that much harder.

They say misery loves company, and that tends to be true. Nothing builds community the way a shared challenge or trauma does. I loved that the story focused on a community built through Tumblr., which I honest to god didn’t even know people used anymore, and Discord which I heavily connect to its roots in the gaming community. It just felt so non-mainstream, and I loved that.

I also really enjoyed that even though so much of this story felt so real and I really connected to it, there was this heavy plotline that literally dealt with a chronic illness of lycanthropy. I’ve never thought of werewolvism being a chronic illness, but it really is, right? So it was a really interesting take on the werewolf plot device.

Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses is like Teen Wolf meets any sad sick kid story, and it really incorporates the best of both genres.

"Being a woman means everyone hates your body, and your body hates you."

But we have to address the elephant (or the lycanthrope) in the room: Why do white people feel the need to write stories from the perspective of people of color? I was looking forward to reading this book for so long, and after I was a couple of chapters in, I realized the author is a white lady. The main character of the book is an Indian girl (Priya), and the story heavily incorporates Priya’s relationship with her Indian family. There is absolutely nothing about this story that needs the protagonist to be a BIPOC. The story could be rewritten with all the same plot points with an MC of any ethnicity, yet the WHITE AUTHOR chose to heavily include a culture that isn’t hers and profit off from someone else’s identity. It’s weird and inappropriate. Don’t get me wrong - I would’ve loved to have read a book like this with an Indian main character that was written by an author that shares that identity, but having a white person write the book makes it feel dirty, and makes me feel guilty for reading it. I was so excited about the book’s plot and felt heavily connected to the chronic illness aspect of the story. Again, it’s weird and dirty. Just… why?

Another thing I feel compelled to mention is the cover. There was a lot of backlash because the cover features an Indian teen and a werewolf, both wearing the same sunglasses. It led a lot of people to believe that Priya (the Indian character) was being perceived as a hairy werewolf, but that actually isn’t the case. The werewolf character is a white girl. I definitely see how that can be perceived without reading the book, and it’s certainly problematic, but I do believe that confusion is totally unintentional.

So I really enjoyed the book for what it was, but having more insight really skewed my thoughts and made it harder for me to really appreciate the entire thing. Again, it’s a weird flex to be white and profit off the identity of a different race. Let’s just try to move past that as a society, ‘kay?

*I received a copy of this book free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are entirely my own.

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