No one expected 16-year-old Munro Maddux to recover overnight from the death of his younger sister, Evie, a special-needs child. But they also didn’t expect the angry outbursts, the mysterious chest pains, and the goading inner voice that Munro calls the Coyote. To heal, Munro embarks on a student exchange to Brisbane, Australia, from his native British Columbia. He moves in with a host family, makes friends at school, and gets roped into volunteering with special-needs residents at the Fair Go Community Village. While Munro is at the Fair Go the Coyote goes silent, so the teen begins spending more and more time volunteering. But when one resident leaves and another is pulled out of the centre, the Coyote returns and Munro collapses under the strain.
The trajectory of Munro vs. the Coyote is solid: adoring big brother loses sister, goes into a tailspin of grief and self-blame, and discovers working with others helps him move forward. When Munro is with his team of Fair Go residents, the novel is most enjoyable; the characters have depth and the storyline is both fun (the residents take Munro sightseeing) and affecting. It’s clear that author Darren Groth has had much experience with special-needs children.
The rest of the novel, however, lacks a similar emotional heft. The host family and friends fall flat and the budding relationship between Munro and his schoolmate, Caro, feels forced and unnecessary. And some readers may find the typographic shifts – meant to distinguish between the interior monologues of the Coyote, Evie, and Munro – confusing.
Overall, Munro vs. the Coyote is an engaging read – one in which teenagers facing loss, personal anguish, or negative self-talk may find familiarity and comfort.