Review: Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses by Kristen O’Neal

‘She said that being a woman means everyone hates your body, and your body hates you.’

Before carrying on with my own review, I think it’s proper to discuss the issues that have been discussed around this book. I’m very obviously white and Irish so have no salt in any discussion about what is good representation of another race and what isn’t. This book features an Indian American protagonist and there have been issues raised about this by reviewers within these communities. I encourage people to check out the reviews I read before this and to seek out some more.

‘Teen Wolf’ meets ‘Emergency Contact’ in this sharply observed, hilarious, and heartwarming debut young adult novel about friendship and the hairy side of chronic illness.

Priya worked hard to pursue her premed dreams at Stanford, but a diagnosis of chronic Lyme disease during her sophomore year sends her back to her loving but overbearing family in New Jersey—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.

I’ve mentioned in reviews previously of books that have centered vampires, that the notion of vampirism has been used to interrogate and discuss various topics and taboos over the years. Best of all how it’s done in Octavia E. Butler’s Fledgling in it’s discussion of race and many other subjects. Lycnathropy though hasn’t quite gotten the same treatment form my own encounters. Granted I’ve not read or watched as widely as vampires in fiction but it does remain that compared to vampirism’s universal, werewolves have only generally been used to convey viruses, hereditary illness or lifelong illnesses. That’s what Kristen O’Neal aims to do with Priya’s story.

When we meet Priya, she is a medical student taking time out of her studies to recouperate. We’re told from the get go that she doesn’t know when or where it happened, but in the last year she contracted Lyme disease. The thing that does stand out here, is how it’s automatically hard not to feel for Priya. I have lived with someone with a chronic illness and while I can’t speak for how accurate the rep is here with Priya and other characters later in the story, it’s clear how hard it is for her to feel understood by many. Even in well meaning situations, with family and neighbours, who think that because she caught Lyme, that her illness will clear up as soon as it came in and not realising this is likely her life now.

Combined with this new drastic change, Priya naturally looks to friends for support and her main support net being her online friend Brigid. Later on, the pair also join an online support group, aptly named ‘ouch, my bones’ set up as a safe space for chronically ill young people. I won’t deny that the writing of these parts of the book were excellent. I really feel the author understood and has carved out online spaces as well where you make genuine, lasting friendships. Hell my own closest friends, both long term and recent, are all ones I’ve made online through book blogging, bookstagram or Twitter. I feel it’s good to have some rep for online friendships that is beyond the ‘Do NoT MEet StRaNgeRs fRoM tHe InTeRNet’ mantra from school. The novel has many tender moments among these friends, one the quote I used up above, and do make you happy that Priya has these people to turn to. Her friendship with Brigid is equally supportive and realistic. They are close on a level only reached from first knowing someone online. They respect each others boundaries and they do eventually have a disagreement. They are the best example I’ve seen of this in a while.

This however was the main thing I enjoyed in the novel. The rest of the book felt clumsy. I can’t speak for any of the rep, hence why I opened the review with the above, but it is hard to avoid and it does feel a bit clunky in the book. I reckon personally there was no badness meant here but I obviously I can’t make any call on that either. I also felt the plot and mystery surrounding how Brigid was dropped and picked up slightly in a way that made it a little inconsistent. I feel that there was a genuine effort to try and weave it around the moments focused on Priya and Brigid’s developing friendship but it sadly doesn’t flow as organically.

I would like to thank Quirk Books and Black Crow PR for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review. I do hope that I outlined everything clearly here and I am open to correction if I made any errors in places. Thanks for checking in guys and happy reading to you all.

.5/5

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