Friday, September 16, 2011

Julie of the Wolves (review)

I was a little bit curious when I saw this book on Netgalley. It's not like the other new releases. Mainly because it's not new at all. It's a Newberry Medal winner published in 1972 repackaged for the ebook market with a shiny new cover (which I like).

Aside from the curiosity two things drew me: Alaska & Eskimos (any variety of Native Americans has this effect on me). Child me loved stories involving Native Americans, obsessively so. I even built a wigwam in the woods once with sticks no joke. In other news I was a really strange child.

Julie of the Wolves took me a little while to get into it. The style is different from the fast-paced melodrama of current YAs. It builds slowly but the pay-off in the end is worth the wait. At least it was for me.

The book starts by following Miyax (Julie is her "gassak" aka whitefolk name) lost on the tundra as she tries to gain acceptance into a pack of wolves. My modern very skeptical brain of course is like "Could this really happen" but then child me pops in "Who cares! And you totally would've believed that when you were young." In the end I don't know enough about wolf behavior to make a judgement call. But I decided it didn't matter because connecting with the wolves had more to do connecting to her Eskimo culture than anything else.

I enjoyed reading about the wolf pack and their behavior. But the novel seems slow at this point. Child-me would've loved it because well...not only was I obsessed with Native Americans BUT animals. I tried to rescue all the neighborhood dogs. Like I said, weird kid. But I don't know how this point will connect with the modern YA audience because even though I'm only 26 their childhoods were SO different from mine. They're so much more iPhone and less save the puppies! Though my sister still constantly brings home strays so maybe I'm wrong.

But once it flashbacks to Julie's life with the Eskimos I was completely engrossed. In the Eskimo village she's like every girl, she wants to be normal but she's not. She doesn't know where she belongs. She's lost both her mother and more recently her father. She dreams of San Francisco, of somewhere different where her penpal Amy lives. The penpal relationship was one of my favorite aspects of this section. Amy's life contrasts with the Eskimo traditions and lifestyle.

At age 13 Miyax is married to Daniel. But not for the reasons you think. It's not that type of novel and I was glad for it. For the most part it harkens to a more innocent time and avoids melodrama. But Daniel starts out dull, but becomes worst with time. Rather than be mistreated she leaves immediately. I love the strength and determination of Miyax. She's not mopey and doesn't feel sorry for herself. Even when she's worried about starving she doesn't sit around pouting. She does something about it. There's a self-sufficiency and strength that I find admirable.

This book has a quiet strength and for me the ending packed a punch. I'm really glad I read this book but kind of sad I didn't read it as a kid. Because if you haven't realized it, kid me would've been obsessed. I hope the re-release and repackaging helps this finds a place with a modern audience. Somewhere there might be a kid like me waiting for this book and I hope she finds it.

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