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The Wolf's Curse

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"The path ahead isn't easy. It will be filled with darkness and despair, and you will almost certainly regret your decision, just as I regret mine."
~Narrator, The Wolf's Curse

Twelve-year-old Gauge’s life has been cursed since the day he witnessed a Great White Wolf steal his grandpapá’s soul, preventing it from reaching the Sea-in-the-Sky and sailing into eternity. When the superstitious residents of Bouge-by-the-Sea accuse the boy of crying wolf, he joins forces with another orphan to prove his innocence. They navigate their shared grief in a journey that ultimately reveals life-changing truths about the wolf––and death.

336 pages, Hardcover

First published September 21, 2021

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About the author

Jessica Vitalis

3 books147 followers
Jessica Vitalis is a Columbia MBA-wielding writer specializing in middle grade literature. An American expat, she now lives in Canada with her husband and two precocious daughters. She loves traveling, sailing, and scuba diving, but when she’s at home she can usually be found recording book talks for Magic in the Middle or changing the batteries in her heated socks. THE WOLF'S CURSE (Greenwillow/HarperCollins) was her debut novel. A standalone companion, THE RABBIT'S GIFT, comes out October 25th, 2022, followed by COYOTE QUEEN 2023) and an untitled novel (2024). Learn more at jessicavitalis.com.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 154 reviews
Profile Image for Jessica Vitalis.
Author 3 books147 followers
September 21, 2022
Writing this book was pure joy. While tackling grief in a middle grade novel is always a delicate balancing act, the fantastical mythology, snarky narrator, and sweet friendship that came to life on the pages captured my heart, as I hope it will yours. Happy reading!
Profile Image for Toronto Bibliophile .
183 reviews18 followers
August 13, 2021
Just finished reading THE WOLF'S CURSE by Jessica Vitalis. Thank you to Harper Collins Canada via Netgalley for my ARC copy in exchange for an honest review. Official publication date is September 21st, 2021.

I fell in love with the characters 🤗

Gauge our 12 year old MC has been cursed with being able to see a wolf in a superstitious town where seeing a wolf means you are extremely bad luck and are ostracized from society. When Gauge's grandpa dies he is left all alone with no place and no one to turn to, until he meets an new friend who is going through a similar experience. They will join forces to figure out why only Gauge can see the wolf and what seeing it really means?

A fast paced story for those looking for a standalone fantasy, with characters to root for. This is a story about loss, death, and friendship that you won't be able to put down. Definitely recommend and look forward to future work by Vitalis!
Profile Image for Juliana Brandt.
Author 4 books80 followers
Want to read
July 31, 2020
I was lucky enough to read a version of this story while it was being edited, and I have to say it was nothing short of breathtaking.

This is a story after which I felt changed, altered in some fundamental way. I read it at a time when I needed an escape, but more than that, when I needed insight and clarity into the world and into myself. The emotional resonance I felt after reading The Wolf's Curse was precisely what I needed when I had it, and I'm so grateful to the author for allowing me that.

It's deftly written and beautifully built. I'm a sucker for Wolf stories, and this is the best of them, with the wolf playing a role of multitudes.

I will greatly look forward to reading the completed book when it releases and will post a more in-depth review then!
Profile Image for Kate Foster.
Author 5 books486 followers
July 31, 2020
This book is so beautiful I have no idea where to start with this review. It's original, lyrical, smart, and magical. As a lucky early reader, I feel honoured, and compelled to tell you all to buy, borrow, or beg for a copy. You won't be disappointed.
Profile Image for tappkalina.
650 reviews401 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
March 1, 2022
dnf at ~20%

I was so excited about this one, but if I don't care about anything that happens in a book at the 20% mark, I won't waste my time on it.
Profile Image for  Bon.
1,122 reviews94 followers
September 28, 2021
WELL! This was...absolutely unlike any younger audience book I've read. Usually this sort of intense plot is in more adult fantasy, and it was fascinating to see it put to work well in a time where kids need to accept that death is all around us.

This was a really interesting story. I'd kind of place it between middle grade and YA, and its centerpiece of grief and mourning, how we rail against death, was a timely message.

I burned through the audiobook in one day and it was paced well and enjoyable, with a plot unique to the younger audience world, I think. A very self-contained story and world, taking place really within one small town despite the tension of the plot. We meet a boy marked to take up the role of the wolf, which is a being that is something between a reaper and Charon of mythology, ferrying souls after death. But he's under a misconception, that the wolf kills people and steals the souls, and that forms the foundation of tension throughout the book. The wolf narrates, which was an excellent POV choice, and the boy spends the book fleeing the wolf as well as the authorities, for being what he is.

The imagery was really cool, of this wolf wandering around and grabbing souls reluctant to leave the mortal realm in its jaws to pry them from their corpses. In that regard it was also rather grim and sad and heavy at times. The wolf has her own sad story from before she took up the role, 700 years before, so our narrator is not an inhuman spiritual predator, and I liked that too.

The message of being brave and confronting death, that we all have an end and some are given a good long time before theirs, and others not, was so incredibly timely as we live through a historic pandemic. There were things like funeral costs even mentioned. I like that it acknowledged the debt and baggage, both monetary and emotional, that we are left with after someone passes.

The cover is also gorgeous. Taking everything into account, I have zero criticism, and it gets five stars.
Profile Image for Celia.
Author 7 books487 followers
September 3, 2021
Huge thanks to Books Forward for the review copy!

Gauge has always seen the Wolf and the Wolf has always seen him. Awarded the role of Death's courier, the Wolf seeks out another who will someday assume the role. But Gauge is less than willing. After the death of his grandfather, the entire village seems to turn against him, thinking him cursed. Now in hiding, Gauge teams up with another orphan who seems to be the only one not out to get him. Together, they navigate their grief as they figure out a way to prove Gauge's innocence.

Jessica Vitalis's debut middle-grade novel took me by surprise. Behind this gorgeous cover is more than a story about a boy finding his place in the world, but also a deep dive into grief, hope, and friendship.

The thing I absolutely loved about this book was that it was told entirely from Wolf's perspective. Now, I have not read The Book Thief (I know, I know. I'm a bad bookworm) but I do know that it's told from Death's perspective. The author drew inspiration from said book and weaved a magical tale perfect for younger readers. Wolf's snarky monologue will make readers laugh. Her character development is on par with Gauge's and I just love how their stories interconnect.

I am so glad to have read this book. I know I will hold onto it for my son to read when he gets a bit older. I think he will appreciate the author's gentle hand with the topics of death and grief as well as the humor that balances out the perfection of the plot. I wish there was a book around like this when I was growing up.
Profile Image for Melanie Dulaney.
1,376 reviews66 followers
June 15, 2021
Jessica Vitalis’ debut novel takes readers to another time and place where hard-working villagers scrape out an existence and build their homes on the cliffs and shores, knowing that one day, they will “set sail” and their spirits reach the Sea-in-the-Sky. Gauge’s grandfather is the town’s master Carpenter and hopes that his grandson’s talents will allow him to take over the shop when it is his turn to set sail, but superstition may not allow that to happen. Gauge can see the dreaded Wolf that the people believe haunts their town and that ability to see it has the boy labeled a Voyant which is usually a death sentence. Fate has allowed the boy to live, but now the shop is idle, poverty worsens and Grandfather is dying. The Wolf narrates this tale as she tries to persuade Gauge to accept a proposition that should save them both and doggedly follows the boy as he strives to deal with his grief, avoid arrest and execution, and finds a friend. Readers of books such as The Girl Who Drank the Moon and the Wolf of Cape Fen will be thrilled to discover this new slightly creepy fairy tale with a touch of adventure and a large dollop of fantasy. Thanks for sharing this ARC with #BookAllies, Harper Collins.
Profile Image for Kate.
Author 3 books394 followers
April 21, 2021
THE WOLF'S CURSE is a book that will stay with me for a long, long time. It did what the best stories do... it left me with a sense of wonder, reverence, and gratitude for our shared humanity. Jessica Vitalis' world building is extraordinary, from the vocabulary (pantaloons and damselfish) to the mythology built up around death, loss, and grieving (death is referred to as 'setting sail') to the pronunciation footnotes (there are pronunciation footnotes!) to the narrative voice (oh how I love narrative interjection, and this novel is gorgeously replete with it). Gauge's world (the wolf's world) is rich and visceral and fantastical, but also wholly real and familiar, because it's the world we all inhabit. It's a world where managing and making sense of loss and grief is a burden we all shoulder. A breathtakingly beautiful read.

My warmest thanks to Jessica Vitalis, Greenwillow Books, and Edelweiss for the eARC.
Profile Image for Alysa.
Author 3 books94 followers
April 23, 2021
This fantastical tale of love, death, grief and the rituals we create to keep us tethered to life amid loss is wrapped up in an exciting adventure. Set in a wholly unique world, and told from a unique and very well executed POV, THE WOLF’S CURSE is a rich and heart affirming book. With multiple layers of meaning this is a story readers can come back to time and time again and keep finding new meaning and insight.
Highly recommend for upper Mg readers.

Thank you to Greenwillow/HarperCollins and NetGalley for the Arc
Profile Image for Kasee Bailey.
147 reviews32 followers
November 29, 2021
What an utterly FANTASTIC MG debut.

With a tender exploration of grief through a folklore lens and a singularly unique POV, THE WOLF'S CURSE has cemented its place in my list of 2021 favorites. The setting, the characters, and the depth of the themes were memorable and meaningful. Simply wonderful.

A thank you to HarperCollins Children's Books, Greenwillow Books and NetGalley for the ebook in exchange for my honest, unbiased review.
Profile Image for Rebecca Morrell.
108 reviews2 followers
July 2, 2021
Such a powerful book! This is the first time I ever wanted two opposing forces to win. This fantasy book will have you in tears, especially if you miss someone who's no longer with us.
April 6, 2023
Disclaimer: I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you to TBR & Beyond Tours, Jessica Vitalis, Netgalley, and Greenwillow Books for this free copy. All quotes in this review are taken from the Advanced Reader Copy and may change in final publication.

I think I had even more of an appreciation for this novel after watching an interview with Jessica Vitalis talk more about her inspiration for this story. Knowing that some part of this was inspired by the narration of The Book Thief and using a character like Death to tell the story was really cool.

I enjoyed being able to see life through someone else’s eyes, and also getting to see just how much Gauge’s life has changed since everything happened. Of course, people don’t always believe a child when something happens, because apparently young people don’t know the difference between real and fake right? But luckily Gauge is able to work with another person in this quest.

I also really liked how Vitalis dealt with grief through the eyes of these characters, and I think that this was a beautiful story to read. This was also my first time reading a book from Vitalis, and I am curious to read future novels from her.
Profile Image for Lu Kluck.
95 reviews
July 20, 2021
This ARC was provided to me by Book Forward Friends in association with HarperCollins Publishers through the Netgalley website, thank you so much!


𝐖𝐫𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐧𝐠 - 5/5⭐
𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐫𝐚𝐜𝐭𝐞𝐫𝐬 - 5/5⭐
𝐏𝐥𝐨𝐭 - 5/5⭐
𝐄𝐧𝐣𝐨𝐲𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐭 - 5/5⭐
𝐖𝐨𝐫𝐥𝐝-𝐛𝐮𝐢𝐥𝐝𝐢𝐧𝐠 - 5/5⭐

𝐓𝐫𝐢𝐠𝐠𝐞𝐫 𝐖𝐚𝐫𝐧𝐢𝐧𝐠𝐬: Death (of a loved one), Self-harm, Alcohol (mentioned), Hallucinations (magic), Police brutality, Terminal illness, Corpse, Religious persecution.


The Wolf's Curse by Jessica Vitalis follows Gauge, a 12-year-old boy whose life got upended when a Great White Wolf stole his grandpapá's soul before it could reach the Sea-in-the-Sky, the afterlife where the dead sail for eternity. He lives in the superstitious village of Bouge-by-the-Sea, where people believe the Wolf is the bringer of death. When the villagers accuse him of calling the Wolf, Gauge has no choice but to seek an alliance with Roux, another orphan, to prove his innocence. In their journey, they reveal astounding truths about death and the Wolf, all the while facing their grief.

The writing style was the first thing I noticed in this novel. It resembles The Book Thief and Lemony Snicket, with interludes and inputs from the narrator. It takes a couple of chapters to get used to since the initial inputs feel unnecessary. However, it creates a unique and personal narration in which the reader slowly gets to know the main character and the narrator. Their relationship is also thoroughly explored in this omniscient but personal narration style. It is emotionally complex and wholly developed, with exceptional character development as well.
Said development rests upon the grief they share, their loss of someone loved, and how they learned to grow and move past the pain. That is what makes the ending well-developed and consistent, demonstrating how their pain and growth resulted in the perfect conclusion for their story.

This novel was one of the best Wolf stories I've ever read. It makes use of the idiom "to cry wolf" as a base for a breathtaking and diverse world-building. The superstitions and customs of this country get thorough descriptions that are detailed but not overwhelmingly informative.
Nevertheless, such superstitions never alluded to racism or sexism, separating tradition and ignorance from outright prejudice, an important distinction to make in a middle-grade novel. Additionally, the different countries in this world have various beliefs, defined as simply distinct realities where things work differently and not as abnormal behaviors that should be feared or despised.

The Wolf's Curse is a breathtaking and life-changing story, fast-paced and inciting, impossible to put down, and everything a middle-grade fantasy book should be.
Profile Image for Conveniently Tongueless.
288 reviews2 followers
August 30, 2021
This middle grade tale, a book that someone of any age should read and will enjoy, is about Gauge, a young boy dealing with the death of his grandfather and the grief that goes along with that kind of loss. On top of these unfamiliar emotions, Gauge is ostracized by his community. They believe he has sabotaged the way to the afterlife, the Sea-in-the-Sky. In order to return home and be accepted, he and his friend go on a journey to prove his innocence.

Along the way, The Great White Wolf, the divine entity who takes spirits to their final rest, narrates. How wonderful is that? The protagonist of a folk tale narrates the story of a boy who is competing with the real life consequences of a folk tale. It's wonderfully meta! More than that, it is beautifully tragic, lyrical, and instructive. It is a story that children need to hear from a fantastical voice, yes, but also a voice that holds enough authority to be trustworthy. Vitalis paints both life and death as adventures and real places where we can belong. There is nothing to fear here. There is only known and unknown, seen and unseen. It is a gift!
Profile Image for Terry Jennings.
Author 16 books30 followers
June 13, 2021
The Wolf’s Curse is a story told from the point of view of death’s acolyte, the wolf who was once human and has, for seven hundred years, transported souls to the after life. The Wolf’s Curse grabbed me in the first page and didn’t let me go. The world that Jessica Vitalis weaves is all encompassing, down to, or maybe up to, the rites and beliefs around death. We need those rites. Every society needs them. And they can be exploited because that is the time that, grief stricken, we are most vulnerable. The wolf fixes his sights on young Gauge, at the time that Gauge’s grandfather dies, to take his place as soul transporter, so he can retire. Gauge faces the dual threat of the rest of the townsfolk who think he is bewitched because he can see the wolf and the wolf’s plans for his future. The question with me the whole time I was reading was how will she end it in a way that’s realistic and satisfactory. I shouldn’t have worried. I couldn't put it down.
Profile Image for Nicole Lesperance.
Author 4 books165 followers
August 31, 2021
This is an absolutely gorgeous book. It's told from the perspective of an enchanted wolf whose job it is to help souls cross over to the afterlife. The wolf is wry and charming, a perfect cozy narrator. She tells the story of Gauge, who is an outcast in his village because he can see her but no one else can. As Gauge struggles with his grief and his search for love and acceptance, you'll find yourself totally wrapped up in this fantastical world. It's a deep reflection on death, but handled in such a sensitive and gentle way. The characters are vibrant and emotional and earnest, the worldbuilding is lush and immersive, and the storyline is super unique. Perfect for middle-grade readers, and frankly grown-ups too!
Profile Image for Rafael Andrade.
159 reviews
September 11, 2021
Gauge, a gifted child, sees his life change drastically with the passing of his grandfather and the ability to see a wolf whose responsibility is to guide the souls of the recently deceased to the beyond.
Our hero finds out that he is a voyant, a person who can see supernatural phenomena. Accused of witchcraft, Gauge along with his new friend will have to run against time to prove his innocence. But the wolf has a different plan for the boy, and its intentions become clear with the turning of the pages.
Narrated by the sly, crafty Wolf, Jessica Vitalis’s debut novel is a vivid and literary tale about family, friendship, belonging, and grief. The Wolf’s Curse will captivate readers of Laurel Snyder’s Orphan Island and Molly Knox Ostertag’s The Witch Boy.
Profile Image for Sofia.
24 reviews1 follower
August 1, 2021
I'm so glad that I was trusted with a digital copy of this book. Thank you BFF Books and NetGalley for giving me amazing book! When I first heard that the story would be told by the wolf itself - who refuses to acknowledge, that in some ways, she is the 'villain' - I couldn't help but be very excited to read it.

I don't think I've ever read a book whose story was told by the "villain" instead of the "hero" and it was a pleasant experience, I wish there were more books like this one and I hope that the author writes a sequel - which I'd definitely read.
Profile Image for Alyssa.
Author 5 books74 followers
May 28, 2021
This book touched my soul. It's been a week since I finished and I'll be thinking about it for a long time.

The titular wolf makes a snarky and compelling narrator (I love her asides) and Gauge is a heart-winning protagonist. I alternated between wanting to gobble the story down in great big gulps and wanting to read slowly and savor it. I can't wait to share this with the fantasy readers that I know when it comes out!

Thank you to the publisher for an advanced copy of the book.
Profile Image for Candice.
348 reviews7 followers
September 12, 2021
I read an ARC of this book in 2.5 hours. It was beautiful, breathtaking, and depicted grief for young children (12) in what I agree is accurate. The story reminds me of the old myths and legends I read as a child. It’s like revisiting an old comfort, but it’s completely different. The story definitely teaches that trust and friendship come in many ways and so does the protection of a parent or in this case parent and grandparent. It’s a must read!
Profile Image for belle ☆ミ (thisbellereadstoo).
1,718 reviews138 followers
October 22, 2021
oh, what a beautiful and heartwrenching story about grief and love. gauge had lived a life of solitude other than having his elderly grandfather as companion. after gauge shouted that he saw a white wolf in public, he was deemed as a voyant. superstitions had motivated the citizens in bogue-by-the-sea that gauge is cursed, a bringer of death, and should die. the death of his grandfather was the turning point where he had no one else to protect him.

when the blacksmith and his daughter took gauge in, the boy knew that he couldn't stay long. he can't cause inconvenience to roux's family and refused to implicate them. though things started getting worse when the two children realised there was something fishy about the release (of the dead). gauge's initial move to ignore the wolf entirely turned into a need to end the wolf. however, he soon finds out that not all seems the way it does.

jessica vitalis wonderfully explored death, grief, and love in the wolf's curse. i adored the little comments made by the wolf whenever she muses about gauge and roux. the background story of the wolf was bittersweet as well. overall, i really liked the wolf's curse. definitely recommend.
August 8, 2021
Thanks so much to Books Forward PR, HarperCollins and Jessica Vitalis for this eARC 🥰

One of my goals this year was to read more MG books and this one just ticks all of the boxes. It’s a little darker than I thought I would get but it’s a real unique take. It’s a short book but its intensity and the unorthodox narration really gave me life!

I just remembered that this is a debut novel and I truly commend the author for taking me in a whole other world with this piece.

Profile Image for Maria Fitzgerald.
Author 1 book22 followers
July 8, 2021
The Wolf’s Curse is an unforgettable, beautiful tale about family, true friendship, loss, and grief. I already know I will come back to this book many times, not only for the Wolf’s wisdom, humor, and compassion, but to reconnect with all of the memorable characters Jessica Vitalis has created on the page. I cried, I laughed, AND I was at the edge of my seat. I loved this book from the first line until the very last!
Profile Image for Kathie.
Author 2 books66 followers
April 25, 2021
Thank you to Edelweiss+ and the publisher for an eARC of this book.

THE WOLF’S CURSE is the author’s debut MG novel and tells the story of a young boy ostracized by his community but whose loyalty to a friend puts his own life at risk as he attempts to avenge her father’s death. Written from the perspective of a unique narrator, this story looks at death, loneliness, love, loss, friendship and the collective power of a community for good and evil.

The Great White Wolf is the narrator of this story. She’s done her job of collecting souls to take to the Woods Beyond for hundreds of years, and she wants to pass along the responsibilities to someone else. Only a Voyant can see her, and when Gauge demonstrates this ability as a child, it frightens the townspeople of Bouge-By-The-Sea. Gauge rarely leaves his grandpapa’s woodshop, but when the Wolf comes to take his grandpapa’s soul after his death, she hopes that he will open Gauge will be open to accepting her job. Instead, Gauge fills with anger, and a bounty on his head forces him to seek shelter with the Blacksmith and his daughter, Roux. Together, Gauge and Roux try to figure out a way for Gauge to escape the town, but another death further complicates their plans. The pair decide to trap and kill the Wolf and expose the secrets about the after-death rituals in the community to clear Gauge’s name. But the Wolf has plans of her own, and Gauge’s life in danger any way he turns.

The Wolf was a very clever and original narrator and provided a lot of snarky humour. The perspective allowed the reader to learn more about characters and their situations which enriched the story. I enjoyed watching the change in her connection to Gauge and how that storyline developed. I also loved the relationship between Gauge and Roux and their loyalty to each other. Gauge and Roux’s similar circumstances bond them but also illuminate their different statuses in the community despite their similar economic situations. I appreciated the author demonstrating this disparity and how a lack of understanding and empathy led to the townspeople’s harsh treatment.

I think young readers will enjoy this story which feels like historical fiction with a touch of magic. I would recommend it for Gr. 5-7, but the length and heavier nature of the story would suggest it’s best suited for upper middle grade readers.
Profile Image for Eileen Schnabel.
Author 3 books21 followers
August 4, 2020
I was lucky to read an early version of this story. The breathtaking prose and appeal to the heart are magical.  The wolf's journey and the mythology alluded to add extra depth as do the heart-warming friendships that develop.  A beautiful and deeply thoughtful book for all ages! Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Loie.
27 reviews10 followers
February 21, 2022
Wow. What a beautiful, heart-wrenching, and real story. Will add more thoughts later, but I saved a ton of quotes from this story. I loved the worldbuilding. I loved the heartache and journey through death and letting go, and challenges we face when we say goodbye to loved ones. Lovely writing style. Can't wait to read more from this author.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 154 reviews

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