Running With The Pack, by A.M. Burns and Caitlin Ricci
Publisher: Harmony Ink Press (Dreamspinner Press)
Release Date: September 8, 2016
Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars
Finn is about to start his senior year of high school when he and his family move from Austin, Texas, to Woodland Park, Colorado. Everything is different—even the elevation—and Finn’s having a hard time getting used to his new home. Life takes a turn for the better when he meets Ivan Dubovasky at a farmers’ market. Finn finds not only a close new friend but a fulfilling volunteer position at the High Mountain Wolf and Wild Dog Center, which Ivan’s family runs. Before long Finn develops an affinity for the wolves under the center’s protection.
Things only get better for Finn when he starts a relationship with Ivan; and Ivan’s best friend, Adrian, who’s asexual, completes their small pack. But it all comes crashing down when the bully plaguing Adrian crosses the line and Adrian goes missing. Finn and Ivan are determined to bring their boyfriend home safe, but they might not be able to do it alone. Luckily there’s a special wolf ready to lend a paw.
M/M and M/M/M Pairing
This novel caught my attention because it’s a YA with a poly relationship involving an asexual character.
Yeah, literally every single one of my boxes was ticked with that description. And this short novel had potential to be a lovely portrayal of how fascinating and complex relationships can be. Plus, the characters themselves were excellent. Finn is new to small-town Colorado, and Ivan is one of the first people he meets; I love how awkward their friendship is from the start, which felt very realistic to me because, well, being a teenager in a new town is pretty freakin’ awkward! And Adrian, Ivan’s friend, started out as a quiet background character who quickly blossomed into a realistic and complex person.
However, even my excitement for the fantastic poly relationship couldn’t keep this one afloat for me. I think it needed to be significantly longer… and it needed some very heavy editing, which it doesn’t not appear to have received.
Some of my issues were cosmetic, like repetitions and little bits of writing that pulled me right out of the story [emphasis mine]:
“Hey, Finn. Hop on in,” Ivan said with a huge smile. “Adrian doesn’t mind being in the back. Do you, Adrian?”
“Nope. I’m cool.” Adrian settled himself in the rear seat.
“I hope you’re okay with me bringing Adrian along.” Ivan pulled the truck away from the curb as soon as Finn closed his door. “Adrian was bored today, and I asked him first.”
But there are also deeper plot issues that desperately needed to be explored in order to make this a cohesive novel:
- It was never actually explained why the bullies pick on Adrian. Because he’s asexual? How did they find out? Because he’s “different”? This is never shown! As an asexual person myself, I know exactly what it’s like to not fit in, but it felt like Adrian’s asexuality was just an excuse for him to be bullied. I needed more here.
- The bullies themselves. There’s a fantastic secondary plot involving the two brothers who torture Adrian at school… but everything was very tell-not-show. I wanted them to be actual characters, not just 2D villains.
- The ending. I mean, okay, I can suspend belief a little, but no way I’m buying this. It was too neat, too tidy, and came out of nowhere. It made me put the book down at the end with a sour taste in my mouth because it was just so poorly done. HEAs need to be built, not shoved in our face.
Also, these are high school seniors who act a lot more like middle schoolers, maturity-wise, but that’s a personal issue.
This novel had a lot of potential. I mean, the plot was fascinating, the characters were lovely, and the relationship was the kind of unique portrayal that I never get to see in YA novels (or, honestly, even adult ones!). But the execution was an absolute failure.
Caitlin Ricci began writing when she was in middle school but it wasn’t until 2012 that she first got up the guts to submit something to a publisher. That first short story was accepted and later that same year she quit her job and became a full time author. She is forever grateful to her readers for giving her first short story a chance and for their continued support as well.
Caitlin was fortunate growing up to be surrounded by family and teachers that encouraged her love of reading. She has always been a voracious reader and that love of the written word easily morphed into a passion for writing. If she isn’t writing, she can usually be found studying as she works toward her counseling degree. Her belief that there is no one true path to happily ever after runs deeply through all of her stories.
A.M. Burns lives in the Colorado Rockies with his partner, several dogs, cats, horses, and birds. When he’s not writing, he’s often fixing fences, splitting wood, hiking in the mountains, or flying his hawks. He’s enjoyed writing since he was in high school, but it wasn’t until the past few years that he’s begun truly honing his craft. He is the president of the Colorado Springs Fiction Writers Group: www.csfwg.org. Having lived both in Colorado and Texas, rugged frontier types and independent attitudes often show up in his work.
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I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.