Hardcover, 240 pages
Published August 25th 2015 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Wolves, like children, are not born to lead calm lives.”
The Wolf Wilder is, exactly as the title suggests, about people who do the opposite of taming wolves. Feodora and her mother live deep in the woods, their only companions the wolves they’re wilding and the snow. Speaking of which, there is this passage in the book about cold that I absolutely love:
There were, in Feo’s experience, five kinds of cold. There was wind cold, which Feo barely felt. It was fussy and loved turning your cheeks red as if you’d been slapped, but it couldn’t kill you even if it tried. There was snow cold, which plucked at your arms and chapped your lips, but brought real rewards. It was Feo’s favourite weather. The snow was soft and good for making snow wolves. There was ice cold, which might take the skin off your palm if you let it, but probably wouldn’t if you were careful. Ice cold smelled sharp and knowing. It often came with blue skies and was good for skating. Feo had respect for ice cold. Then there was hard cold, which was when the ice cold got deeper and deeper until at the end of a month you couldn’t remember if summer had ever really existed. Hard cold could be cruel. Birds died in midflight. It was the kind of cold that you booted and kicked your way through.
And there was blind cold. Blind cold smelled of metal and granite. It took all the sense out of your brain and blew the snow into your eyes until they were glued shut and you had to rub spit into them before they would blink. Blind cold was forty degrees below zero. This was the kind of cold you didn’t sit down to think in, unless you wanted to be found dead in the same place in May or June.
It is especially great to come across non-feuding parent and children pairs in children’s literature. Feo’s mom, Marina, is absolutely fearless and contains her own set of scars and history which we do not get into too much in this book–we just get a sense of it. Anyway, the premise before I continue evaluating the novel:
Feo and her mom, Marina, are wolf wilders living deep in the woods in Russia. They return to the wild those wolves that have somehow lost their places with their high-society owners, the dukes, duchesses, and whatever other nobility title you want to pop in there. They’re happily living their wilding life when an army general by the name of Rakov pays them a visit, knocking their possessions around and making threats about what would happen the next time these wilded wolves took down livestock. Inevitably, this does happen and Rakov, the slimiest slime ever, exacts revenge by arresting Marina and setting Feo and Marina’s house on fire. Feo manages to escape the flames with the help of an unexpected friend, Ilya, a soldier in Rakov’s own squad, and together they trek through the wilderness in an attempt to rescue Marina from hanging. Accompanying them are three wolves that Feo has already wilded and with whom she shares a sense of family.
On the way to the city where the trial (of sorts) is going to take place, Feo runs into Alexei, a beautiful but remarkably strange, boy, a ragtag band of children, and scared adults.
This book is so wonderful for so many reasons that unwrapping it here in a review seems like a shame. Rundell has done her research on ‘wilding’ and has integrated this research so seamlessly into the narrative that when Feo explains one aspect or another of the practice, she does so in her voice and not in the voice of a researcher pretending to be a character.
Speaking of characters, I loved all of Rundell’s characters in this novel, even the hideous villain. I loved how fierce Marina is, how wild Feo is, the vulnerable but hopeful Ilya, the strange and beautiful Alexei, and especially the bloodthirsty Sergei. Rundell infuses her characters with story and life so that they come vibrantly alive in your mind. The depiction of the bond between the wolves and Feo is heartwarming but, at the same time, Rundell is very careful to ensure that the wolves are seen less as pets and more as friends–there is a healthy respect for their wildness that I appreciated.
The story itself is amazing–when children take matters in their own hands because the adults are too busy playing elaborate games of what-ifs is always a story I can get behind. The novel does ask you to suspend your disbelief but it never pushes so far that it challenges logic. The atmosphere in the novel is very much like the one in the earlier Harry Potter movies or The Little Rascal–where children attempt to and succeed in defying odds to achieve success that no one would have thought possible.
The Wolf Wilder tells a story of friendship, not just between people but between people and wolves. It’s also a story of courage, of bravery, and of doing what is right regardless of risk. Kids will love this something fierce–this will make a perfect gift to read on a snowy winter eve. Adults will love this one because it captures that essence of childhood that difficult to capture and express in and with words. Strongly recommended.