Gabriel Lane is an owl shifter. When he was 16 years old, Gabriel broke the rules of his tribe by revealing himself as a shifter in broad daylight. Gabriel’s powerful owl-shifter grandfather accepted no justification for Gabriel’s action, he simply compelled Gabriel to shift and has forced him to stay in owl form ever since. After three years, Gabriel worries he’s losing his inner human to his owl side. But when he catches the teenage son of the family that lives in the big house next to Gabriel’s nesting tree about to commit suicide, Gabriel again risks everything to save the young man from a desperate mistake.
High school senior and all-around good guy Vin Thatcher has a secret—actually, several. He doesn’t want to become a lawyer like his parents want him to, he’s more passionate about his music than anything else, and he’s gay. When realworld expectations overwhelm him, Vin decides suicide is the only option. Except, before he so much as scratches his wrists with a knife, a barred owl barrels into his room. Vin feels an affinity for the animal and things only get more intense when Vin realizes he can actually communicate with the owl.
It isn’t long before Gabriel and Vin know everything about me ach other. And despite their different physical forms, there is a growing romantic connection. When an accident leaves Gabriel seriously wounded, the two find themselves fighting against a plot to kill Gabriel. But are Gabriel and Vin strong enough to survive the onslaught?
Owl is an interesting mix of teenage melodrama and romance. The story is told in first person from Gabriel’s perspective. The point of view allows Raiya to emphasize Gabriel’s conflicting emotions and arguably reveals his immaturity. For example, Gabriel often seems to swing between two extremes in his relationship with Vin—either he’ll pursue a relationship with the human despite the risk of Gabriel revealing himself to another human (much less courting one); or he’s moments away from unilaterally breaking off all contact with Vin to protect the human from Gabriel’s vengeful grandfather. I found it a bit grating that the whole reason Gabriel is in a position to meet Vin is because he is being punished for revealing himself as an owlshifter…only for Gabriel to subsequently reveal himself to Vin and his parents.
Raiya spends a good portion of the book developing the owl-Gabriel and human-Vin relationship. In fact, I was just about ready to accept that the entirely of the book would focus on this dynamic when a spectacularly convenient series of events leads to Gabriel discovering he can shift into human form. The prose clearly indicates Gabriel has some difficulties transitioning back into a human after three years living as an owl. What was clearly (bizarrely?) mutual interest in each other when Gabriel was still stuck as an owl grows into a teenage version of a desperate love affair. I wasn’t very clear on what actually drew these two together beyond Vin’s appreciation of owl-Gabriel intervening when Vin was about to attempt suicide and Gabriel finding Vin hot. Personally, I found the description of their romance to be on the schmaltzy side—the two have a scene where they get matching ear piercings at the mall (seems a bit dated to me, but then, I’m not a teenager).
There is a pivotal scene where Gabriel gets attacked that leads to a widening of the scope of the story. This expansion includes explicit acts of vengeance against Gabriel by his grandfather and I think it helped make the story more suspenseful. In other words, when Gabriel regains the ability to actually shift, the story seems to shift from puppydog romance to thriller. The climactic scene where Gabriel has a showdown with his family brought a great sense of closure, but also sets up the characters for a sequel.
Overall, I thought the book was okay. I liked the less-common shifter animal and I was happy that Gabriel’s grandfather’s animosity towards Gabriel was fully explained. The romance between the two MCs goes through a couple stages, from inexplicable attraction to something like star crossed lovers. Gabriel’s being a shifter put an interesting spin on the relationship: human Gabriel wanted to “perch” on Vin’s shoulder or nip Vin’s ear like he did when in owl form; Vin had a picture of Gabriel in owl form as his smartphone wallpaper. If you are a die hard fan of shifter stories or enjoy young adults having all the feels (usually with an “all or nothing” intensity), then you may enjoy this story.