Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses – Kristen O’Neal

Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses intrigued me due to its approach to werewolves as a chronic illness and featuring disabled characters. However, while I loved the concept, I did not end up enjoying the book as much as I expected to. It’s an interesting format, but there were some issues too.

Many thanks to Black Crow PR and Quirk for sending me an ARC. All opinions are my own.

STAR RATING: 2.5/5 ✶

PUBLICATION DATE: 27/04/21

SUMMARY: 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. (from Quirk Books)

OPINIONS: So, the most important thing about Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses is the format. I didn’t realise this going in, but approximately half the book is written as conversations on a Discord server or text messages. Many characters only appear through such conversation and don’t physically interact with the MCs. It was an interesting approach, but for me personally it didn’t quite work. It made the story drag and sometimes hard to follow – reading other people’s inside jokes just isn’t very funny to me.

The plot itself is pretty cool, looking at lycanthropy as a chronic condition that the person in question has to deal with and contextualising it within a support group for chronically ill people. But, the representation seems to be on a surface level. It’s hard to put my finger on it in terms of the illness narrative. While I don’t have Lyme disease, which the MC has to deal with, I am someone with chronic migraines and mental health issues, and a close friend of mine has EDS. Obviously there isn’t one right way to deal with such things, or a single way to discuss it, but to me, Lycanthropy and Chronic Illness reads like a story written by someone who has talked to some people who are disabled or have a chronic condition rather than one written by someone who is able to pull from personal experience.

Added to that is the fact that Priya, the main character, is Indian-American, and her parents seem to be immigrants. However, this representation too doesn’t go past the surface. The family is presented as devoutly Christian, going to church every Sunday and putting a big emphasis on the religion. So far, so good. Christianity is a minority religion in India, so focusing on that seems surprising. The way it is discussed reminds me more of a white American approach, to be entirely honest. Throughout the book, there is little to place them culturally, apart from one reference where the mother speaks Tamil. But there are no endearments, no occasional words in Tamil or any discussion of food that is not western – the one instance food is truly talked about it’s pizza, and they refer to the pineapple controversy. While I am obviously not an expert on Indian-American culture, Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses reads to me as a book featuring a white girl with an Indian name. (Also a huge thank you to my anonymous Indian friend who patiently answered all my questions to help distill my thoughts!)

These things heavily detracted from my enjoyment of the story. PoC authors continuously fight for representation and it seems a shame that this digs into that without doing a convincing job. Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses is an enjoyable, funny book, but also a deeply flawed one. I personally wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, as much as I hate writing that on here. If you are interested in checking it out for yourself, you can find it on Goodreads here, and order a copy from Waterstones here.

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