Title: Wolf by Wolf
Author: Ryan Graudin
Published in Australia by Orion Books, an imprint of Hachette.

Wolf by wolf is an alternate history where Hitler and Japan have won the Second World War. The main character, Yael, is a survivor of the concentration camps. Form the age of six she endured painful experiments at the hands of Dr Geyer, until she escapes. Rescued by the resistance she is educated and trained as a resistance fighter. Yael is a skinshifter as the result of the experiments and can change her physical appearance to look like any woman. The only thing she cannot change is the number tattooed on her arm, which she has turned into five wolves, one for each person who helped her survive. Yael impersonates Adele Wolfe, the only female victor of the Axis Tour, a motorbike race from Germania (new name for Berlin) to Tokyo. Her mission is to win, at all costs, and kill Hitler at the Victor’s Ball. Although she studies and learns about Adele, she does not expect her twin brother to enter the race. There is also a hidden history between Adele and Luka, another victor that Yael must try and negotiate. This is a gripping read suitable for YA and adult readers.

Wolf by Wolf is well written with a complex and intriguing story line. The alternative history aspect is an intriguing one and makes for interesting discussions with others on what the world might be like if Germany and Japan had won. The plight of the prisoners and some of the atrocities that occurred in the concentration camps are realistic. Characterisation is strong and the dialogue captivating. The writing is well worked, I wanted to re-read passages many times and I wrote many notes of ‘favourite’ passages and quotes.

‘Yael felt the cold sadness of the snow. The smoke-haunt behind the old woman’s eyes. She took these things and wrapped them inside her.’ (p. 114)

‘Yael held other people’s faces in her mind, sewed them to her bones with sadness and rage. She could never say how she did it. The skinshifts were like walking or chewing or crying-part reflex, half conscious. All pain.’ (p. 119)

The movements between time settings are seamless. Like all good writing, readers are left with questions of their own, answerable as the narrative travels along the highways and dusty roads of the Axis Tour, taking small detours to the past. I did not expect the twist at the end and had to remind myself to breath as I read the last few pages, so compelling this book is.

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The sequel to Wolf by Wolf is Blood for Blood. I would love to give you an outline but to do so would give too much of Wolf by Wolf away. It is as gripping and intriguing as Wolf by Wolf, and just as unpredictable and authentic. One of my favourite quotes from Blood by Blood is:

Question: How long can one candle burn?
Answer:
Until it has nothing left to give.’ (p.111)

Booktalk

This booktalk is suitable for grades 7 and older.

It is 1956 and Hitler and Japan have won the Second World War. Yael, a Jewish escapee from the death camps, is competing in the Axis Tour motorbike race. Yael was part of an experiment in the concentration camp and she can now skinshift, changing her physical appearance to look the same as any woman she has seen. She is taking the place of Adele Wolfe, the only female victor of the race. Her mission is to win and kill Hitler at the Victor’s Ball at the end. But that is not going to be easy as the riders do not always play fair.

Read from the top of page 68 to page 71, “…back into the race”.

There is a lot of action in this book and I found it hard to put down. As you ride with Yael through the deserts and highways from Germania to Japan, you will also experience flashbacks as she remembers those who have helped her survive and are now symbolised on her arm as wolves to cover the tattoo number given to her at the concentration camp.

For more information about booktalks see my page here.

Possible teaching/learning activities

  • Map the race on a map of the world, colouring countries and continents governed by Germany and Japan as described in the book.
  • Research the concentration camps of Nazi Germany and the medical tests and experiments performed during this time.
  • Research motorbikes of the 1950s. How have they changed? What were they used for?

Teaching notes and reading guide are available here. Note: This is a direct PDF download, (but totally worth it!).

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