& Review: Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin. Young Adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers October 2015

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin. Young Adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers October 2015

The Book Itself: Very dramatic, and definitely depicts the idea of a motorcycle race across the world. The wolf shadow is well done, and even the colors remind me of WWII propaganda posters. Overall very well done.

My Review: The year is 1956, and the Axis powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule the world. To commemorate their Great Victory over Britain and Russia, Hitler and Emperor Hirohito host the Axis Tour: an annual motorcycle race across their conjoined continents. The victor is awarded an audience with the highly reclusive Adolf Hitler at the Victor’s ball.

Yael, who escaped from a death camp, has 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 victor, Adele Wolfe. This deception becomes more difficult when Felix, Adele twin’s brother, and Luka, her former love interest, enter the race and watch Yael’s every move. But as Yael begins to get closer to the other competitors, can she bring herself to be as ruthless as she needs to be to avoid discovery and complete her mission?

Boy, there really was a theme to my reading in the final months of 2015. Last week’s review explored werewolves and political overtones, and this time, wolves take a symbolic role in this speculative fiction story, where Hitler won and a motorcycle race he organized might finally lead to his downfall.

Plus, there’s the shapeshifting element: our protagonist, Yael, can alter her appearance thanks to the experiments performed on her in the concentration camps. So she changes into a contender for a globe-trotting motorcycle race that, should she win, will get her within killing distance of Hitler himself.

The book doesn’t ease you into the story – within the first few chapters, Yael is kidnapping the contender she is to turn into (Adele Wolf) and a few pages after that, starting the race. You get to know Yael a bit more over the course of the story, but all you’re really getting at the start of the story is a brusque, hardened warrior type who is single-minded in her pursuit of murdering someone (I mean, it’s Hitler, but still: Yael is off-putting at first).

Overall, I felt the story could have been expanded. Give me 100, even 150 more pages and I would feel like everything was really fleshed out. The motorcycle race, the central point of the story, seems quick, even glossed over in parts. The most description and interaction between the racers comes at times they are not on their bikes. At checkpoints, with fights breaking out over bowls of soup, or camping overnight in a desert, sabotaging each other’s bikes and equipment, or coming to blows on a ferry ride between roads. The race isn’t the focus: it seems like dwelling on the characters and their conflicting feelings and relationships with one another are. But the race seemed pretty freaking cool to me (as cool as something devised by this fictionalized Adolph Hitler could be…) and Yael spent a little too much time agonizing over her feelings about the contender’s brother, or her attraction to the contender’s love interest. Maybe I wanted a little less YA novel introversion and wanted more action.

Add to that some YA silliness – why would Yael get tattoos when they would still be there when she transformed? She’s been training for this mission for a long time, and is so personally connected to it. Why chance ruining that by getting five wolves tattooed on her shapeshifting skin, representing five people she wants to remember? Emotional connection and memories and all that, but she could have just as easily brought along five wolf pendants or figurines or whatnot. I must not be putting enough emotional stock into that decision. It just seems like a reckless, stupid thing to do when you’re trying very hard not to stand out as being someone else. And also the whole plan is for her to kill Hitler, and then escape out the back door…you best believe that that’s impossible. Aren’t the people surrounding him trained to kill any threats to his person? Why does she think that the immediate confusion and panic will be enough to get herself out of there? If she had spent more of the story with the mentality of a suicide mission, maybe it would have made the story too serious. But come on…talking about Hitler automatically makes things serious.

Either way, there will be a sequel, coming out this October that might have more of that action and less emotional contemplation. It is well-written, if a little too YA-simplified than I would have liked. So perhaps I will pick up the story again to see the story through.

My Grade: C

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