Review: Running With the Pack by A.M. Burns and Caitlin Ricci

Finn is about to start his senior year of high school when he and his family move from Austin, Texas, to Woodland Park, Colorado. Everything is different—even the elevation—and Finn’s having a hard time getting used to his new home. Life takes a turn for the better when he meets Ivan Dubovasky at a farmers’ market. Finn finds not only a close new friend but a fulfilling volunteer position at the High Mountain Wolf and Wild Dog Center, which Ivan’s family runs. Before long Finn develops an affinity for the wolves under the center’s protection.

Things only get better for Finn when he starts a relationship with Ivan; and Ivan’s best friend, Adrian, who’s asexual, completes their small pack. But it all comes crashing down when the bully plaguing Adrian crosses the line and Adrian goes missing. Finn and Ivan are determined to bring their boyfriend home safe, but they might not be able to do it alone. Luckily there’s a special wolf ready to lend a paw.

Despite the title, this is not a shifter story. I say this now, so that you, dear reader do not feel the pang of disappointment like I did when the realisation occurred.

After I got over myself, and my peculiar reaction, I got stuck into this story, and didn’t fully breath until I finished the last page.

To say this is adorable and sweet is an understatement. Again, don’t let words fool you. This isn’t one dimensional fluff. This is a solid YA story, with a sweet plot and some rough edges.

Before I get to the good stuff, I am loathed to critique the character development, but I must.

Adrian, my favourite of the three, did not get enough time for me. I loved him, and thought he made a huge impact on this story, with his gentle, introverted nature. I think it did a disservice to the story to not include more words dedicated to bringing his personality out. He turned this sweet love story, into something more weighty. I felt he was brushed aside a little, which didn’t bring this story to its full potential. I obviously can’t read the authors minds, but I wonder why they held back on Adrian. His nature shined through his pain, and the story would have been fuller if he was explored a bit more.

In true YA romance form, this is about relationship development, and I think there was some solid piecing together of these three. Ivan is the rock in the relationship. The one whose solid presence allowed Finn and Adrian to explore themselves freely, without judgment and with his whole heart in it. Finn was the instigator of the triad, and I loved how he slowly fell in love with both these boys. His natural affection, and draw to Adrian, broke down the barriers that held Adrian back from Ivan, and allowed them all to grow together.

Adrian, quiet, reserved, and naturally nurturing of others, he would never stand in the way of Finn and Ivan being together, because he knows he cannot offer the sexual relationship Ivan needs. His willingness to sacrifice his own happiness for Finn and Ivan, was both noble, heartbreaking. An artist, with the gift to draw unrelated images that represent his feelings, and allow people a glimpse inside himself, is beautiful. Adrian really stole my heart and it would have gone wherever he went.

The subplot of bullying was the layer that solidified this into something less fluffy, and more three dimensional. Along with navigating a friendship/relationship with two boys, Finn sees how bullying is affecting Adrian and actively tries to prevent it, while supporting Adrian as he bleeds from wounds no-one can see. The shimmering undercurrent of abuse, and worry over Adrian’s mental health, makes Finn the perfect third, as Ivan doesn’t appear to know what to do in the face of Adrian’s withdrawal.

I wanted a bit more from the ending. I felt it was abrupt, and under developed. But the rest of the story made up for this shortcoming for me.

All three characters had a full and different personality. The sexual exploration between Ivan and Finn is something gentle and free. There is no on-page sex, but the intensity of the draw to it is there, and the fade to black encounter was enough to know these two would be enough for each other. I enjoyed the inclusion and discussion with Adrian. I think this showed a maturity in Ivan and Finn that surpassed their age. Wanting everything to be open, ensuring Adrian was apart of their shared experiences makes them well on the way to adulthood. The hugs and kisses with Adrian shimmered with the same intensity as the suggestion of the sexual encounter between Ivan and Finn. It felt fulfilling and necessary for everyone involved.

The parallel with the wolves and ‘pack’ was a nice touch. The affection, loyalty and safety between the three really came through the pages.

I would recommend this to all lovers of YA fiction. There are some frustrating parts, and a little bit of teenage angst, but the rest was a beautiful, emotional journey, into accepting that not everything is simple or clear when it comes to being in a relationship.

A review copy was provided in exchange for an honest opinion

Find on Harmony Ink Press or Goodreads!

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