Women Gone Feral: Werewolves and Other Angry Creatures
As someone with chronic depression and anxiety, wild mood swings are just a normal part of my life. Sometimes, I’m bursting with frenetic energy, barely hanging on for dear life as I do All The Things. Other times, I’m flattened by chronic fatigue, barely able to function.
But a new emotion has been building up inside me these past few years, coating my insides with acid and leading me to isolate myself from others: rage.
There’s the growing resentment that comes with being a woman who engages in a huge amount of emotional labor, who makes sure things are running smoothly before she attends to her own career and mental health. There’s the fear and frustration that come from seeing entire communities controlled and silenced and erased via fascism, the fall of Roe v. Wade, the varied legislation attempts that seem born out of cruelty more than anything else. There’s the growing impatience that comes with seeing seemingly rational people radicalized, seeing them embrace individualism over collectivism.
Just put me out to pasture already. Let me retire to my bedroom indefinitely, curled up in the fetal position, clutching my child’s largest Squishmallow to my chest.
Part of me wants to embrace this anger, let it burst out of my chest in a beam of cleansing fire à la the Care Bear Stare. But the cultural conditioning is strong in me. After all, haven’t women been raised to be meek and accommodating and quiet? (Spoiler alert: Yes.)
This is why I love books about enraged women. Books about women who don’t give a shit anymore. Books about women who decide to light the match and let it all burn.
One of the most fun manifestations of this genre is the book about women gone feral. They’re just cathartic as hell.
Allow me to take you on a journey through my reading list.
Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder
I read this book what feels like eons ago, but I still get sooo excited every time it’s brought up in conversation. (I am the one bringing it up, mind you.) Here’s the lowdown: Nightbitch lurks on the edges of the local mommy and me activity groups. She retreats from her career, taking on the role of primary caregiver while her husband is away for work five days a week. She wears the same lounge pants seven days a week, allowing her hair to grow wild and greasy and untamed. When she begins to grow a pelt of coarse hair on the back of her neck, to slink around the neighborhood on all fours, to seize small animals in her jaw, we can’t be sure whether or not she’s imagining things. But what’s undeniable is that the mother in Nightbitch is without a support system, without an outside identity. And in the wake of the anger and resentment that build inside of her, she eventually turns feral. This book speaks to my very soul.
Squad by Maggie Tokuda-Hall and Lisa Sterle
In this YA graphic novel, the new girl in town is quickly snapped up by the popular clique. She feels lucky, until she realizes that her new besties are werewolves who transform into ravenous creatures every month in order to satisfy their boundless hunger. She tells herself it’s okay; they only target asshole boys who take advantage of unsuspecting girls. Talk about a satisfying revenge fantasy. But soon, the rules they have in place around choosing their prey get fuzzy.
Bestiary by K-Ming Chang
The juxtaposition between Chang’s gorgeous writing and the violent impulses at the heart of her story is just…pitch perfect. In Bestiary, three generations of Taiwanese-American women are revealed to have the spirits of various animals inside them. Soon after hearing about this family history, Daughter herself, the protagonist of our story, begins transforming into a tiger. As we learn more about these generations of women, we see the effects of continued abuse and generational trauma on their lives.
Women and Other Monsters by Jess Zimmerman
I saw Zimmerman speak on an AWP panel on Myths & Monsters in Memoir, her place there cemented by the publication of her book Women and Other Monsters, a cultural analysis of female monsters from Greek mythology. I love what she has to say about women and monstrousness. Her book is a call for women everywhere to reclaim these stories, embracing their own monstrousness as a force for change.
Lobizona by Romina Garber
I’m a commitment-phobe, so I usually balk at books that are part of a series. But the premise for this one was too good to pass up. In Lobizona, a young undocumented immigrant finds her world upended after her surrogate grandmother is attacked, her mother is arrested by ICE, and she discovers that she’s been lied to all her life. In her search for self and stability, she learns there are brujas and werewolves in her family history. What does one even do with that??
When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill
I picked this one up immediately upon reading its description. It didn’t hurt that the cover is gorgeous. In Barnhill’s feminist fantasy, women pushed to lead lives of submission instead become dragons in what is known as the Mass Dragoning of 1955. One young woman who was left behind has questions. Unfortunately, she’s not allowed to ask them. Will she push back against the constraints that have been forced upon her, embracing her own inner dragon?
Diary of a Mad, Black, Werewolf by Micheline Hess
In this graphic short story, writer/illustrator Micheline Hess uses the woman-turned-werewolf trope to explore her feelings about systemic racism and police brutality in the United States. The story grew out of an Inktober prompt and, after receiving an overwhelmingly positive response to her work, Hess decided to self-publish it. You can still order this satisfying piece of dark humor on her website.
Such Sharp Teeth by Rachel Harrison
And finally, we have Rachel Harrison’s newest, which isn’t out until October, but you know this author is always worth the pre-order. In this latest work of horror, our cranky-pants protagonist is less than thrilled that she’s had to put her life on hold to care for her pregnant sister. She doesn’t want to be stuck in this backwoods town, entertaining *romantic feelings* about her high school almost-flame. SHE IS A FREE SPIRIT, DAMMIT. But things only get worse when she’s bitten by a werewolf. How can she ever go back to her high-flying city life now? But perhaps embracing her inner monstrousness is the key to everything?
And that’s all she wrote. If you crave more smooches with your savagery, allow me to point you toward this list of 50 must-read werewolf romances.