The year is 1956, and Hitler has won the war.
The powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule. To commemorate their Great Victory, 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 in Tokyo.
Yael, a former death camp prisoner, has witnessed far too much suffering to use this opportunity. Which is why the resistance has given her one goal: Impersonate a racer, win the race and kill Hitler.
Books: Wolf by Wolf
Author: Ryan Graudin
Release Date: 20th October 2015
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
I’ll be the first to admit – Wolf by Wolf was an impulsive buy. At first glance, I anticipated a Holocaust-driven historical thriller told from a YA perspective. A few chapters in, I knew this book would offer so much more, I just wasn’t prepared for what.
Wolf by Wolf begins with Yael – our 17-year-old jewish protagonist. At the hands of painful human experiments in a death camp, Yael developed the ability to skinshift into any female she meets. This aspect of Yael’s character was revealed quite early on, which quickly shifts the tone from historical realism to something closer to sci-fi.
After bravely escaping the camp as a child, Yael joins the Resistance as a young recruit. This was where her story truly began. Under their tutelage, Yael is tasked with assassinating Hitler by means of impersonating the only female racer in the Axis Tour, Adele Wolfe. This deception proves more difficult when Felix, Adele’s twin brother, and Luka, Adele’s former love interest, enter the race and watch “Adele’s” every move.
When Luka and Felix first rocked up, I was initially more invested in Felix’s role in Yael’s story. From the get-go, Adele’s brother proved to be driven by loyalty. Not to Hitler, but to his family, and more importantly, to Adele. Faced with this unexpected obstacle on her mission, it was interesting to see Yael adjust her personality (and actions) to that of a sister, and a twin no less.
As a character, Yael had her own demons to battle. One of the most recurring themes within the book was about identity – Yael’s Jewish identity and her physical one. Because if you’ve spent your entire life living in bodies of others, was there any of you truly left?
And while Yael’s personal story is hard to ignore, the majority of the book played out on the actual Axis Tour and Yael’s journey across the continents. Think Hunger Games, but with WW2 motorbikes and a whole lot of dust and dirt. These scenes were filled with plenty of tense moments and thrills, and painted a daunting picture of a world built in Hitler’s image.
While I wasn’t a fan of Ryan’s other book, The Walled City, I really learnt to love the author’s style of writing, especially with how she portrayed time. While the crux of Yael’s story was set in the present – her past was scattered throughout the book as minor chapters. Moments, really. And although backstories tend to divert my attention away from the bigger picture, these added more depth to Yael’s character – which is always a bonus. Not only do you get introduced to Yael as a young girl imprisoned, you also meet the people who’ve shaped who she has become – a rebel.
I think the one thing that truly sets Wolf by Wolf apart from the usual historical YA thrillers was how undisguised it was about Yael’s mission and the stakes on hand. Yael wasn’t easily distracted by the mundane obstacles that usually plague teenage stories. Every move, decision and action she made was done with a fierceness that left you reeling with tense anticipation. Was this the Moment? Would this choice change the world? Or annihilate it?
At its core, Wolf by Wolf scared the living bejeezus out of me. Not because of the setting or the violence, but because it could’ve happened all too easily in reality. In our world, people took sides, experiments took place, and hatred had a neighbour’s face.
In the best, most honorable way, it’s the worst game of “what if” you’ll ever read.
A copywriter by day, an avid reader (and serial series watcher – jeez, try saying that 5 times) – by night, my library is filled with books of the YA kind, plenty of which fall under contemporary, fantasy, a few historical operas and the like. The occasional New Adult, perhaps. Not a fan of picking favourites – if I’m hooked by the synopsis, then I’m willing to read pretty much anything. That’s all, folks.