Immortal Lycanthropes: Required reading for budding happy mutants and their grownups

Hal Johnson's Immortal Lycanthropes is a YA novel unlike any other. It's the story of Myron Horowitz, a horribly disfigured amnesiac orphan whose nice adoptive parents can't protect him from the savage beatings administered by the school bully every day. But then the bully is found bruised and battered and hurled through shatterproof glass, and Myron is found on the floor of the cafeteria, naked, with no sign of his clothes anywhere. And the adventure starts.

You see, Myron is an immortal lycanthrope, part of an ancient mythic race of human/animal hybrids -- one for every species of mammal -- who date back to the dawn of humanity. Nothing can kill him save another immortal in animal form, and there are plenty of those around, as it turns out. They have all come out of the woodwork to attempt to kidnap/kill/rescue/brainwash/claim/manipulate him, because he appears to be the first newborn immortal lycanthrope since the dawn of history.

Myron is off on a madcap trip across America, variously beaten and nearly killed and tricked and conned and even worshipped as he discovers the true nature of his race, and speculates about what animal might lurk within him.

Johnson has taken a slight idea -- his editor says that the book's genesis was a sarcastic remark about writing YA fiction, as in, "What, you want me to write about immortal lycanthropes or something?" -- and made something perfectly wonderful and wonderfully perfect out of it. A few chapters in, I flipped to the beginning of the book looking for an "about the author," only to notice that he'd dedicated the book to Daniel Pinkwater, who is the all-time world champion of weird amazing mind melting brilliant YA fiction. I knew then that I had found a writer who was going to pierce me like a very funny, very weird arrow.

And pierce me he did. Take one part Lemony Snicket, one part Boy's Life adventure, three measures of Daniel Pinkwater, a dash of Tex Avery mixed with Carlos Castenada, and you'd get something like Immortal Lycanthropes.

When I was twelve years old, my brain was blown clear out of my skull and into an erratic orbit by a Daniel Pinkwater novel called Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy From Mars. If I wanted to have the same effect on a bright 12 year old proto-mutant today, I might just hand her or him a copy of Immortal Lyncathropes. For the win.

Immortal Lycanthropes


    1. This review has been written, for free, by a guy who writes YA, reviews it periodically and has a kid daughter. I’d be inclined to believe Cory when he says that this is unlike anything he’s read, even if the basic structure (shared more or less with all YA, fantasy and other coming-of-age novels since Goethe) is the same.

    2.  As a college professor who teaches children literature and who has actually read the book, I would agree it is unlike any other book. The vocabulary alone lets it stand out. This is no “watered-down” book.

  1. Not trolling, just curious – what makes a YA novel? Why is it labelled for young adults when it gets reviewed by not young adults (sorry Cory)? Does it lack anything that more mature people expect in a novel? As a reader in his mid 40s I’m actually put off by the label YA, is this a mistake?

    1.  Being put off by the YA title is a mistake IMHO. YA does not necessarily mean that the story is watered down and/or censored for a younger audience. Like any other literary subdivision, YA includes great books and awful books. But believe me when I say that there really are some great YA books that can be enjoyed by adults as well. Essentially, if the plot of a novel features a coming of age story then the publisher is going to classify it as YA because YA outsells pretty much every other type of book.

    2. I often wonder the same thing, to the extent that I think YA might actually be a marketing code that targets adults who want to read YA, rather than books targeted at ‘young adults’ themselves. I know when I was a young adult I found most books directed at YA’s (me) to be patronizing and ‘dumbed down,’ even if they weren’t, and skipped ahead to ‘adult’ books. 

  2. So…
    I’m assuming the main character of this story has the ability to shapechange into animals… which may include, but does not exclusively mean turning into a wolf, and only a wolf.
    Since “lycanthrope”, derived from Latin “Lycos” (wolf) and “-thrope” (the suffix for ‘man’ or ‘human’, root-word for things like: “Anthroplogy”), which is used exclusively, to refer to one who can change back-and-forth from wolf to human.
    That being the case, too bad there isn’t a generic term that refers to one who changes between beasts, in-general, to human and back again… 

    Oh wait! Maybe, there is ONE…

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