Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin
Series: Wolf by Wolf #1 (1/2)
Published by Little, Brown Books on October 20, 2015
Genres: [Young Adult] Science Fiction, Historical Fiction
Format: Paperback, ARC
4.5 Stars, Completed January 7, 2016
– SPOILER free –
Once upon a different time, there was a girl who lived in a kingdom of death. Wolves howled up her arm. A whole pack of them-made of tattoo ink and pain, memory and loss. It was the only thing about her that ever stayed the same.
Her story begins on a train.
Absolutely stunning. Wolf by Wolf is one of those rare historical fiction novels where we all know how it ends because of history. Yet, Ryan Graudin still manages to weave a story that is ultimately gripping and unpredictable through using creative liberties to answer what-ifs and would-bes all the while adding a dash of some science fiction flavors of her own.
Graudin poses several possible scenarios in which the Second World War could have ended. What if Hitler and the Axis powers won the war instead? What if the unethical, medical experiments tested within the camps actually worked? Or what if a genetic fluke from said experiments backfired but was the prime solution to end this horrific period?
This alternate history novel provides answers to those reflections by introducing readers to fictional Yael, a young female survivor of painful human experimentation and escapee of a concentration camp. Wolf by wolf, she remembers all the lives and people, the “wolves,” that sacrificed themselves for her safety and the greater good of humanity.
Remember and be rendered.
Babushka-the one who gave her purpose.
Mama-the one who gave her life.
Miriam-the one who gave her freedom.
Aaron-Klaus-the one who gave her a mission.
Vlad-the one who gave her pain.
These were the names she whispered in the dark.
These were the pieces she brought back into place.
These were the wolves she rode to war.
With the trauma and vengeance Yael possesses, she only has one goal in mind: assassinate Hitler herself to stop this vicious cycle of innocent people getting killed. The golden opportunity will be using the Axis tours, an annual motorcycle race across the continents. Last season, the Axis tours had their first female winner, Adele Wolfe. All Yael has to do is pose as Adele and win again, in hope of going to the victor’s ball and having Hitler’s last dance, the one where she pulls the trigger. Even with the help of the Resistance, Operation Valkyrie does not go quite so smoothly. Yael didn’t anticipate some unforeseen obstacles: the stirring of her own emotions and conscience, confusion with her role and Adele Wolfe’s identity, and Adele’s rocky relationships with her twin brother, Felix Wolfe, and her former love interest, Luka Lowe. The mission is more than a secret revenge to help save humanity… it’s a quest for Yael to conquer her weaknesses and explore her own identity, the one from the past and present.
The arrangement of Wolf By Wolf‘s narrative was unusual. Readers get a split perspective between two different time periods in Yael’s life: “then,” where the details of Yael’s early life in the camp is described, and “now,” which is the present that tracks her journey along the Axis tours. These jumps had preceding headers that revealed the year and place, making the story flow really well. Even without the headers, the switch between settings were tastefully placed and not at all confusing.
However, the only reason why I’m deducting half a star is because the flashbacks to Yael’s past in the concentration camp reminded me too much of other holocaust stories that I’ve read: Night, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, The Diary of a Young Girl, and The Devil’s Arithmetic. I’m sure most accounts from survivors of camps during the holocaust are similar but I wish there was something more in Wolf by Wolf other than the medical experimentation.
Despite that Yael’s thoughts were a pleasure to read. Honestly, I’m not one that is easily annoyed by characters, but I know a lot of the heroines in young adult literature are criticized because of their vain and dense decisions. Yael was mature, mentally and physically strong, and someone anyone would want to root for. I mean she’s leading a revolution. She’s certainly one of my favorite female protagonists. The fact that’s she’s disciplined, determined, and willing to die for the greater good attributes her as the perfect tragic heroine if it comes to it. Also, as what Graudin mentioned in her author’s note:
This book, at its heart, is about identity. Not only in how we see ourselves, but about how we see others. What makes people who they are? The color of their skin? The blood in their veins? … I gave Yael the ability to skinshift to address these questions, as well as to highlight the absurdity of racial superiority. By taking creative liberty with this surreal element, I hoped to push readers out of their comfort zones and into Yael’s many skins and, by doing so, to impart a deeper understand of what humanity is capable of.
There are plenty of characters that go through an identity crisis in ya literature. But Yael’s story remains unique and will be quite memorable for most readers, I think.
I was pleasantly surprised that the romance was left to the minimal. We have two guys but no love triangle, thank goodness. Prior to Yael’s meeting with Felix and Lucas, it was obvious that Adele Wolfe (the girl Yael poses as for the race) had some unfinished and mysterious business with both. Yael wasn’t properly briefed or prepared for Adele’s relationships to the guys, and readers were just as confused as Yael as she tried to decipher the two guys’ connections with Adele throughout the journey. I liked the dynamics between both of the male characters with Yael. And the supporting cast how ever small a part they played in this were just as likable (or appropriately dislikable) for me.
I was expecting the military, bike, and weaponry jargon to be confusing or at the least boring, but Graudin used layman’s terminology. Wolf by Wolf remained fast paced for all readers-ones with or without a strong history or mechanical foundations. However, it was clear that Graudin was a history buff herself.
This story was just well done from the start with the character development, compelling plot line, and evocative writing. But what makes this a nearly five star, favorite read of mine is: The credibility. I enjoyed reading Graudin’s author note about her intent, inspiration, and creativity for Wolf by Wolf as much as the rest of the book. Throughout the story Graudin seamlessly mixes fact and fiction to make it almost indistinguishable, which ought to be the goal of most alternate history authors but often is not achieved. Extensive research was obviously done. From reading her authorial intent, readers learned she created characters inspired by lesser known historical figures that lived then. The Axis tours actually had a grounded base called Motor-HJ. And most importantly her idea for using Yael as a skin-shifter was influenced by how Hitler’s motivation behind the massive genocides and murders were because of his philosophy on a superior race. Graudin points out that Yael represents all the races and types of people because she has no skin of her own. And through Yael’s many changes she’s able to view and sypathasize with the differences. There’s also some implicit, thought provoking suggestions about how humanity can be both good and bad. The infinite amount of underlying heavy themes behind this purely fun ya novel was what made it an exceptional read.
This has become one of my favorite ya books. I’m pretty bummed that I waited this long to read this. I wish I had finished it before Yallfest, last November, when I met the author herself. Just to gush and discuss in detail, in addition to her author’s note, what her inspirations were to create such a story. Sigh, the only thing I can think of now having read it is how can I get my hands on the sequel, like, right this instant. Everyone, Wolf by Wolf is a must read!
Quotes were taken from an uncorrected advance readers copy.
Special thanks to NOVL and Little, Brown Books for sending me this review copy of Wolf by Wolf. In no way did this affect my reading experience or honest review.