Under normal circumstances the crackpot theories that are contained in Wolf By Wolf‘s glorious pages would never work. An author can’t merely throw together every idea she’s ever had for a book and expect them to mesh together as though they were never conceived separately. Well read it and weep because Graudin does just that times infinity with this genre bending tour de France. It’s 1956 in the remains of post war Berlin, the command center of Hitler’s unchallenged iron grip on the world. Deep in the bowels of the city though lurks a resistance whose very success hinges on the demise of Hitler at the hand of one of their own; a seventeen year old girl named Yael. Fear not though, Yael is not a mere teenager but instead a victim of revolutionary supernatural experimentation at the hands of a cruel concentration camp scientist; a curse that grants her the unheard of ability to shapeshift into any woman she’s ever seen. Her duty? Infiltrate the identity of Adele Wolfe, the female victor of last years Axis Tour (a cross continental motorcycle race to commemorate Aryan supremacy), win the race, and kill Hitler at the Victor’s Ball. Sound weird? Check. Sound exciting? Double check. Should you read it? Triple check.
I’m just like Yael. Well, except for the fact I don’t live in an alternate universe, have never possessed otherworldly abilities, lack any real fighting skills, and have never been invited to assassinate a powerful political figure. But if you don’t count any of that, twinsies. Seriously though I believe that’s where the real strength of Wolf By Wolf lies, in the way that despite the fact Yael leads a life that’s anything but ordinary she still feels universal emotions and expresses them in such recognizable ways even an Illinois girl can relate too. Oh and connect I did, from page one I felt so much sympathy for Yael’s plight and all the harrowing experiences she endures. While Yael is an amazing character full of spunk, tenacity, and kindness this adoration is due to the sheer genius of Graudin’s characterization. I’ve mentioned in reviews about how I feel authors frequently think that in order for a female hero to be respected she has to be this ruthless, devoid of emotion, take no prisoners killing machine. That isn’t reality though, book humans should feel the same things readers do to fully capture the grasp of emotional spectrum, and Graudin understands that in spades. My favorite scene is one where Yael, faced with the choice of extinguishing another human’s life, reflects that while to her this one soul is merely a drop in a sea of many, to someone out there it is a cherished loved one worth saving. This empathy is such a vulnerable, REAL, emotion that made Yael’s interactions all the more genuine and created an attachment to her character.
Graudin also excelled at developing complex relationships between Yael and supporting characters, both in the past and present. For example the book switches time periods every few chapters to give us a glimpse inside of Yael’s early life and the five people whose deaths have shaped her and the way she sees the world, with each given no more than ten pages. In that short time though Graudin pulls back the many layers of Yael’s hardened shell and effectively makes us care about these people we know ultimately meet an untimely fate. In the present time, the Axis Tour is colored by many skeletons in Adele Wolf’s closet that Yael must now navigate a lifetime of memories with despite having no recollection of their shared history, a task made all the more difficult when Adele’s former love interest and her twin brother show up demanding answers . Both boys are interesting spins on well worn cliches; Luka is a traditionally “ bad boy” upon first glance but with further inspection Yael begins to untangle a web of conflicting personalities that make him at once infuriating, cut throat competition, and far more complex than Hitler’s perfect mold makes him out to be. Felix, Adele’s brother, displays a tender kind of sibling devotion that I wish more YA books would recognize in their portrayal of relationships. Despite complicating Yael’s chances of success I could tell his heart was always in the right place and I’m definitely excited to see more of his multi-layered background hinted at come full circle in book two. Even Adele, who for the majority of the book we know only through the existence of others, has potential to become a kick butt counterpart to Yael. Ryan Graudin reveals just enough of these characters to get us excited, but leaves plenty up for interpretation in future books and I’m very curious to see what direction she chooses.
I give Wolf By Wolf all the literary stars possible. Very rarely do I stumble upon such an innovative premise executed with surefooted technique, but when I do you can guarantee you’ll be hearing about it for a while. If the idea sounds a little zany for your taste rest assured that Graudin does everything in her power to make the world seem as close to home as possible, and in doing so ensures that while the magic element of her book is certainly at the forefront of the plot it never detracts from the story. With a little something for every reader; break neck action, meticulous detail for history buffs, and some hints at romance, I find it my civil service to recommend Wolf By Wolf to everyone around. A must read!