Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
October 20, 2015
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Code Name Verity meets Inglourious Basterds in this fast-paced novel from the author of The Walled City.
The year is 1956, and the Axis powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule the world. To commemorate their Great Victory over Britain and Russia, 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.
Yael, who escaped from a death camp, has one goal: Win the race and kill Hitler. A survivor of painful human experimentation, Yael has the power to skinshift and must complete her mission by impersonating last year's only female victor, Adele Wolfe. This deception becomes more difficult when Felix, Adele twin's brother, and Luka, her former love interest, enter the race and watch Yael's every move. But as Yael begins to get closer to the other competitors, can she bring herself to be as ruthless as she needs to be to avoid discovery and complete her mission?
When I first heard about Wolf by Wolf, I was eager to read it: Ryan Graudin has become one of my favorite authors and I love alternate histories. When it came time to read Wolf by Wolf,, though, I was slightly hesitant. Making Hitler and the Axis powers the winners of World War II, is a big thing. A big thing that could (quite easily) go very, very wrong.
I was nicely surprised by the lack of how wrong it did go. The atrocities the Nazis committed are definitely still present and, in fact, it is because of undergoing forced experimentation that Yael has her 'skinshifting' ability. Yet, it is more a story about Yael, her experiences, her losses and her desire to bring an end to this broken version of the world. It is about individuals, who they are - to themselves, each other and society as a whole - more than the bigger picture of Hitler and Nazism.
Yael knows why Hitler needs to die and why she needs - and wants - to be the one to do it. What's harder for her, amidst all of her appearance changes, all of her playacting at being other girls, is remembering who Yael is. Who that young girl, before she boarded that train, was.
I think that Wolf by Wolf gives us enough glimpses into what Europe and the world are like with Hitler in power, all the way from the bigger elements down to the little details. From the curfews to the propaganda posters and the swastikas. Yet, in a lot of ways, during the race, Yael's (as Adele) questions and doubts about her fellow riders, about, maybe, not what's right, but what is really wrong, are not relevant only to Hitler and the Third Reich, to Jews.
Yael's thoughts on who she is - as she pretends to be other people - and if others are what they outwardly seem to be are though provoking for readers, as well.
The author does a very nice job imagining the how behind the Axis powers' victory as well as its implications. Yael's ability to skinshift introduces a fantasy element, but its grounding in reality - in the experiments that were conducted - makes it fit well into the tale.
The motorcycle race that the characters participate in, the danger and sabotage, Yael's tension over her position in the standings, keep the story moving quickly. As the cross the kilometers, readers will feel like they're on the race, as well, questioning characters' motives and morality. And wondering who will be the winner - and what it will mean.
This is the first book in a duology and I am very much looking forward to the second book. It is a compelling alternate history idea with complex characters I am eager to read more of.
received, from publisher, via NetGalley, for honest review