Monday, July 6, 2015
Newbery Review: Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead (1973 Medal Winner)
I first read Julie of the Wolves in third or fourth grade and fell in love with it. The concept of survivalism in a world and culture so close and yet so far from my own sparked my young imagination. However, upon rereading, some of the book's magic has faded for me.
After nearly being assaulted by her husband, thirteen-year-old Miyax, whose American name is Julie, runs away to live with her pen pal in San Fransisco. But the plan goes awry, and Miyax finds herself stranded in the tundra, with no one for company except a wolf pack. She eventually befriends and names each of the wolves, and throughout the book, struggles to survive and to find her identity.
It's (literally) a dog eat dog world in the tundra, and Julie's attempts to personify the wolves often works against her. The entire book has the feeling of its setting: dark, cold, and mature, with a small spark of hope that over and over again is extinguished and relit in another form. Due to some of the content, the book escapes age placement. Sometimes it is very much a Middle Grade animal story, a la Gentle Ben, other times more of a YA self-identity story, like Craighead's Far Side of the Mountain, and other times it has clearly Adult literary tones. I think the inconsistency here was what bothered me upon rereading. Also, there's the controversial but vague assault scene, which thanks to the aforementioned vagueness went completely over my head at age 9, but certainly didn't now.
Overall, the book definitely does not seem as popular as it once was, probably because it is a slow, sometimes painfully chilling read, and the MG market has shifted to the hyper-energetic, humorous route. Kids looking for LEGO MOVIE-esque entertainment will quickly be bored. The book is humorless and gray. But it still holds some sort of mystic charm over me that I can't explain. Maybe it's that everyone can relate to human struggle. Maybe it's the entire otherworldliness of the concept and setting. Or maybe it's just because Jean Craighead wrote a good book.
Recommended Reading Age: 12+
Content for parents: Julie's teenage husband is obviously mental and in a vague episode, grabs her and attacks her, after which she vomits and decides to run away. Animals die, some of them at Julie's hand, and those she butchers. The wolves hunt ruthlessly.
For more Marvelous Middle Grade Reviews, check out Shannon Messenger's blog here!