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When my father was about 9 years old, he discovered George's My Side of the Mountain. According to my grandmother, he spent quite a bit of time that sWhen my father was about 9 years old, he discovered George's My Side of the Mountain. According to my grandmother, he spent quite a bit of time that summer trying to recreate it. I inherited as a child the same beat-up 1969 paperback that had been rolled up and stuffed in his pocket while he slept in the leaves of the holler. In turn, I have read from it to my seven year old son. My husband, on the other hand, fell in love with Jack London as a child. To ask him to pick his favorite between The Call of the Wild and White Fang would be like asking him to pick between our children -- the first gift I ever gave him was a hardbound copy of both volumes in one. One of my most prized books is a copy of Island of the Blue Dolphins, bought and beautifully inscribed for me on my 11th birthday by someone who loved me way more than I deserved. The first book I ever remember staying up all night to read was Hatchet (a school class copy I smuggled home in my backpack and returned the next day - entirely against the rules. If your reading this, I'm sorry Mrs. Reiff.) I write all of that to preface a shameful confession: prior to the 23rd of last month, I had never heard of Julie of the Wolves. How? How did I not know about this book?!
Like any and all of the books listed above, Julie of the Wolves was beautiful. Beautifully written, and beautifully evocative of the natural world in the way that only someone who truly observes the world around them could write. George quite frankly stunned me at times with the stark exquisiteness of her words. It was also a very quick read - surprisingly so for how very much was included in it. I loved Julie's time with the wolves, and would have enjoyed a much longer, more in depth look at how the pack worked together. Amaroq and Kapu captivated me; and I would love to know how/why Jello was the outcast that he was. Is Kapu going to be able to keep himself and the rest of the pack safe, or will his relationship with Miyax make him have a dangerous level of trust around other humans? How much longer will Silver be the dominant female now that her pup is pack leader? (I think I may be more invested in the wolves than the humans in this story.)
I also have to wonder a little at what lies beneath the luster. Perhaps the haze of nostalgia is fogging my memory of the other books, but Julie of the Wolves has a sort of defeated hopelessness that I don't think I have ever encountered to the same extent in other books of this genre. It was almost like George was channeling Hardy or something. (Don't get me wrong, Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure have their place, but that level of pessimism in a 13 year old is just a little hard to take.) I want something more for Julie that she was willing to ask for herself. I want Kapugen (the father, not the wolf) to be more than he is - or to at least have time as a reader to learn why he isn't who he used to be. Why did Tornait die? (I mean, aside from the fact that he was representative of the bird spirit, which is being killed off by the Eskimos losing their traditional ways.) I mean, what actually killed him? I reread that part a few times, and I am still not clear. Better yet, why did Amaroq die? Couldn't we even get a, 'well, we've been killing the wolves that are getting too close to town' from someone once she got there? Was George imply that Kapugen was his killer? Or just like his killer in that they now share a similar lifestyle? I get that Kapugen represents the change in his people, but what about him on a personal level? George seems to sacrifice her characters as individuals for what they represent in the larger picture. I understand that Julie of the Wolves is supposed to highlight some of the problems created when civilizations collide; but it seemed to do its fair share of critiquing the harsher realities of traditional customs as well. (Her marriage to Daniel had nothing to do with 'gussak' ways.) Also, it's almost like George focused all of the very worst of both societies on one young girl, leaving her little else. Julie of the Wolves was gorgeous, and there is much to value in it. But, in the end, it just left me feeling hollow - and I don't know that I like that in a middle grade novel.
As an aside, the biography of George that was included with this edition was just wonderful. I think the pictures of her, especially later in life, really capture just how joyful the natural world and wild animals made her.