This is a late post since I read this book before the pandemic.
Mongrels a coming-of-age story about a boy who lives with his aunt and uncle. The three of them are wanderers: always in poverty, always on the move, the adults never seeming to hold down jobs, the kid being swept along in their wake as they run—from the law, from their past, from everything, really— even as he tries to make sense of himself, his family, and how they fit in the world.
I’m going to go ahead and spoil the novel: it’s about werewolves. But it isn’t just about werwolves. It’s about growing up in an unpredictable, oftentimes dangerous world, surrounded by adults who aren’t always the best role models but who are doing the best they can, given circumstances.
The parallel between being a werewolf and being poor, specifically in the American South, is obvious, but this makes it all the more painful. As the story unfolds, the reader not only gets bits and pieces of the family’s back story, they also learn about werewolf lore. The protagonist himself wasn’t brought up on it, so the reader acquires most of the lore at the same time he does, and the piecemal acquisition of information makes the reading experience all the more meaningful.
Jones’ lyrical language makes it easy for the reader to slip into the story, into the lives of this very dysfunctional group of people (I’d insert a werewolf skin simile here, but if you read the book, you’ll find that it won’t fit). I like stories where the weirdness is incidental, and it’s that way with this novel. That they are a pack of lycanthropes isn’t the whole of the main point. It’s that they are, at the end of the day, a family.