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Thursday, July 7
Wolf by Wolf
My rating: ★★★★½
Publisher: Little, Brown Books
Date of publication: October 20, 2015
Age: Grades 8 and up
Genre: Historical Fiction
Format: library book
Themes: motorcycle racing, alternate history, Nazi Germany, genetic mutations, resistance, identity
The year is 1956, and the Axis powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule. To commemorate their Great Victory, they host the Axis Tour: an annual motorcycle race across their conjoined continents. The prize? An audience with the highly reclusive Adolf Hitler at the Victor's ball in Tokyo. Yael, a former death camp prisoner, has witnessed too much suffering, and the five wolves tattooed on her arm are a constant reminder of the loved ones she lost. The resistance has given Yael one goal: Win the race and kill Hitler. A survivor of painful human experimentation, Yael has the power to skinshift and must complete her mission by impersonating last year's only female racer, Adele Wolfe. This deception becomes more difficult when Felix, Adele's twin brother, and Luka, her former love interest, enter the race and watch Yael's every move. But as Yael grows closer to the other competitors, can she be as ruthless as she needs to be to avoid discovery and stay true to her mission?
While my YA reviews are scarce, they're usually for something good. And this was definitely good. My penchant for WWII novels may make me biased, but the expert writing, world building, and characters definitely carry this book well past any personal preference. I haven't ever read an alternate WWII history novel (though there are a few, I'm sure, that deal with the what-if-Hitler-won possibility) so this was an excellent introduction into the idea. Granted, there's a dose of sci-fi thrown in with the human experimentation done resulting in Yael's ability to skinshift. While it's true that Nazis tried to find "cures" for genetic "abnormalities" (anything from brown eyes to homosexuality), it's a pretty big stretch to get a human chameleon. And yet, I didn't think it detracted from the premise.
Indeed, this story was excellent. Excellently researched, laid out, and written. It flashes between the present and Yael's past, which provides heart-rending insight into her motivations for working with the resistance. Yael, herself, is an incredibly complex character for a YA book, since not only is she dealing with the cruelties of her government and loss of loved ones, but also the loss of her own identity. The theme of identity really grounds the high-action story with some thought-provoking aspects (which Graudin addresses in a note at the end). Even the other characters, while not the stars, still have elements to appreciate. For instance, the pressure on the Japanese racers to win and bring home honor. Or Felix's love of family, and wanting to protect his sister. It's all good stuff.
Yet, I wish I could give it the full five stars, but something holds me back. Maybe, it's the bit of the cliffhanger ending (WOW the ending! Luckily, it's just a duology, so I only have to wait for one more book). Or it may also be some of the writing—yes, it was excellent, but some of the more flowery metaphors and parts of speech (while beautiful) were too much, pulling me out of the story. Or it ma be Luka—I wish Graudin delved more into why he was so desperate to win (but apparently there's a novella that goes into that a bit). Overall, really, really small complaints. Depending on the second book, this series just may pull out with a five-star rating.
I'd definitely recommend it. It's exciting, minimally romantic (it would've proved such a distraction in this case), though-provoking, and well done (plus all the swearing is in German! Ha). Give it a try!
Find it at your library or on Amazon