Title: WOLF BY WOLF
Author: Ryan Graudin
Series: Wolf By Wolf, #1
Publication Information: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2015
Genre: Young Adult – Alternative History
Rating: 5 Stars
Recommended For: People who like what ifs and character-driven books.
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?
(Summary from Goodreads)
This book was a little slow for me in some places – interesting, given that it revolves in large part around a motorcycle race. However, a large part of the reason for this slower pace is all of the emotional exploration Yael experiences, so ultimately I was all right with this.
As a small child, Yael was taken to a concentration camp and selected for an experiment the Nazis were doing. At one point in the book, she says she doesn’t even remember what she looked like before all of the experimentation; she spends too much time taking on other people’s identities for that. I feel like this was a very powerful symbol of what was going on internally for her, too. She has no family, no people, and she has to hide her true self in order to survive. The parts of the book where Yael is thinking about the people in her past who had a part in putting her on her current path, along with trying to figure out who she really is, were the strongest parts of the book for me.
The setting was really interesting, too, since it takes place in a world in which the Axis won World War II. It’s the 1950s, and Hitler controls Europe, North Africa, and most of the Soviet Union; Japan controls virtually all of Asia; the U.S. has taken an isolationist stance and what’s left of the Soviet Union operates more or less as a ragtag band of rebels our of Siberia. I feel like Graudin did a great job bringing to life a believable version of this world.
I also liked Adele’s brother, Felix. We could see that while his relationship with his sister was complicated, he still cared about her and about their family. He also had a complicated relationship with the Reich; he didn’t necessarily agree with the policies, but he also wanted to keep his family around. I felt like, on the whole, all of his internal conflict came across realistically and he was one of the more interesting characters.
TL;DR: Surprisingly character-driven alternative history.