Monday, December 14, 2015

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

Back in the fall, The New York Times Magazine asked its readers whether they would go back in time and kill baby Hitler if such a possibility existed. And because we are heading into an election year in America, and because the twenty-four-hour news cycle must be constantly fed, and because the Internet and any mention of Hitler is a toxic combination, the question went viral.

Ryan Graudin’s young adult novel Wolf by Wolf has no baby Hitler, but it does feature an alternate history where Hitler won World War II and, together with his ally Japan (which did not attack the United States in this alternate history, but instead forced the Soviet Union into a two-front war) now rules all of Europe and northern Africa. To celebrate their (admittedly fractious) alliance, the Germans and the Japanese have a yearly Axis Tour for their youth, a motorcycle race from Berlin to Tokyo, where the winner earns not only acclaim, but also the chance to meet an increasingly isolated Adolf Hitler.

And in the previous year, the Axis Tour was won by . . . a girl. Racing with her gender hidden, Adele Wolfe wins the race and reveals her truth, a truth (and a face) much admired by Hitler.

The Resistance sees this as a chance to finally accomplish their goal: assassinate Hitler. This is where Yael comes in. A survivor of Hitler’s death camps, Yael escaped because the experiments done on her in the camp changed her in ways unforeseen even by the Nazi doctors. Changed her in ways that allow her to become Adele Wolfe. Changed her in ways that drive her to accomplish her mission: win the race again and assassinate Hitler at the victory dance. Changed her so that only the five wolves tattooed on her arm can help her remember who she really was. And changed her in ways that leave her wondering who she really is.

Graudin creates a compelling alternate historical reality for the reader, and that alone would have made for an exciting read. But the addition of the X-Files/Fringe-ish elements adds an enticing layer to Wolf by Wolf, as Graudin layers questions of identity upon us: Who are we when our identity can so easily change? One of the best books I read this semester, and already a new favorite among my 9th –grade students.

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