A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Readers will learn about Los Angeles neighborhoods, which author Stiefvater describes in vivid detail. The city, including its various neighborhoods, is as much a character as Cole and Isabel, and there's a real sense of place in the book.
All of Stiefvater's novels deal with the issue of identity and coming to terms with what you want out of and whom you want to be (and be with) in life. Sinner, as in her other books, tackles the complexities of performance/persona versus reality/honesty. There's more to Cole and Isabel than it seems, and in the end what they want is to be seen and loved for who they are, not only who they seem to be, and that's a valuable lesson for younger readers. Readers also will learn that it's best not to make assumptions based on superficialities. The story stresses the importance of being comfortable with yourself, being confident enough not to overthink or second-guess everything you do, and realizing that falling in love comes with the risk of heartbreak, but it's still worth it. There's also an important lesson that sexual expression is best shared with someone with whom you have an emotional connection as opposed to simply someone to whom you're attracted.
Positive Role Models
Cole and Isabel are flawed characters with a good bit of emotional baggage for such young adults. They lie and mask their feelings and lash out at people. But they're both brutally honest with each other and see in each other what other people can't. Their willingness and ability to see beyond the superficial makes them easy to root for.
Violence & Scariness
Cole has suicidal thoughts. He recalls dangerous moments from his past and how often he's escaped death when others did die. Frequent references to Cole hitting rock bottom, passing out onstage, self-harming via substance abuse and addiction.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
There's only one sex scene late in Sinner, and it's tastefully described in general, emotional terms. But the entire novel is suffused with sexual tension, and it's described in great detail how much Cole and Isabel desire each other. Isabel fixates on the disparity between her relative inexperience (she's technically still a virgin) and rock star Cole's sexual past with dozens and dozens of women. At one point Cole wakes up and there are three topless girls in his room ready to do whatever he wants, but he isn't interested in them. Plenty of passionate kisses, lingering bedroom-eye looks, and a whole lot of lust -- but usually between two people of age who clearly love each other. Isabel makes out with a married man but immediately regrets her decision.
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Occasional strong language ("f--k," "a--hole," "s--t") is peppered throughout the book.
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Products & Purchases
Stiefvater loves cars, and it's obvious in the story, which includes a Mustang, a Saturn, a Range Rover, a Prius, a Lamborghini, an Escalade, and a bunch of other cars.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Cole's a recovering addict who remembers past binges and everything he (regrettably) did for a high. A member of his band smokes pot and offers him some, and later a woman offers him both alcohol and ecstasy, although he partakes in neither. Someone mentioned in the story dies of an overdose. Isabel, who's 18, drinks to excess at a party and makes poor decisions in her inebriation.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Sinner is a stand-alone companion book to Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver trilogy, but, instead of focusing on that series' central couple, Sam and Grace, it follows former rock star (and werewolf) Cole and emotionally fragile beauty Isabel. A story of love and friendship in Los Angeles, Sinner contains mature references to recovering addict Cole's sex-drugs-and-rock-'n'-roll past, as well as his ongoing impulses to score. There are underage characters who drink and young adults (their age is unclear) who smoke pot, take ecstasy, and drink to excess. Some of the characters occasionally use strong language, and the entire story is permeated by the red-hot chemistry between the main characters. One scene features some topless groupies, and a single woman nearly has sex with a married man, but there's only one actual love scene in the book, and it's tastefully described with an emphasis on the couple's emotions, not the act itself. Readers who are fans of Stiefvater's books will love her return to the Mercy Falls universe's most compelling secondary characters.
Is It Any Good?
Readers familiar with Stiefvater's style will revel in her luscious prose, her lyrical sense of place, and her swoon-worthy descriptions of falling in love and sharing a mind-blowing kiss. Stiefvater has said that Sinner is the "truest novel" she's ever written, and that's because, except for the little fact that Cole is secretly a werewolf, Sinner reads more like a nuanced contemporary romance than a fantasy love story like her other books. Renowned for her passion for cars (which are lovingly described in each of her books) and driving metaphors, Stiefvater quite perfectly sets Sinner in Los Angeles, where everyone spends a good portion of his or her life behind the wheel. Cole's desire for his beloved old Mustang, Isabel's anger at her blinged-out SUV, and Cole's new good friend Leon, a limo driver, are only a few examples of the significant connection between characters and cars in the revved-up love story.
Fans of Sam and Grace should take heart: They are both mentioned in this novel, although their cameos aren't nearly as substantial as Etienne and Anna's in Stephanie Perkins' Lola and the Boy Next Door. Stiefvater clearly wants the spotlight to stay on Cole and Isabel's turbulent romance, not dwell on another couple's happily-ever-after. Cole and Isabel are far edgier than earnest Sam and Grace, so it's fitting that this story is an unputdownable ride you'll be sad to finish.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.