Monday, October 5, 2015

Review: Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

Title: Wolf by Wolf (Wolf by Wolf #1)
Author: Ryan Graudin
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: October 20, 2015
Rating: ★★★★½

Summary (via Goodreads):

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?

Many thanks to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (and NOVL) for sending me this electronic copy via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Holy Scheisse!!! What a book. And what a thing to write about: a world in which Hitler won the war.

Let me start with my favorite thing about this book (a challenge, for sure, given the number of things I love about this book), and that is Ryan Graudin's writing, which is nothing short of remarkable. The subject of this novel is not, I imagine, an easy thing to write about – the events were ugly enough the first time around. To imagine some alternate universe in which those events only get amplified? Unthinkable. And yet, Graudin does an incredible job representing not only those events but also the internal thoughts and feelings of those who live them.

The writing is wild when it needs to be – a rhythmic beat that makes you feel primal and crazy and aligns perfectly with the savageness of this version of 1956. She writes about the human experience in such an accessible way, but it leaves you feeling raw and wondering how such ordinary words could make you feel so much. It's poetry, stark and brutal, and it makes you want to chant the words and stomp your feet on the ground.

Beyond the writing is the story itself: one girl's mission to get into the Axis Tour, win the race, and kill Hitler. Which is easier said than done, of course. And is layered with even more complexity when we discover the results of the Nazis' human experimentation and the main character Yael's ability to "skinshift" and take on other appearances. We get to watch as Yael fights against all odds to win the game. It's an exhilarating ride, and the story just propels forward.

This is a character-driven novel, and it's not. There isn't character development so much as character revelation, especially since we start from a place of unknowing. We meet Yael and right off the bat we can tell she's a tough one, a girl who has gone through unspeakable horrors and has somehow lived to tell the story, but we learn more and more about her – her weaknesses and insecurities, her self-perceived identity (or lack thereof), her history and the people who have made a mark in it (and upon in her skin in the form of a tattoo of wolves) and what has become of them. Wolf(e) by wolf(e), we discover all these things that make her human, even while she sees herself as a tool.

And the discovery starts with Yael, but it doesn't stop there. We realize that Felix Wolfe (twin brother of Adele Wolfe, last year's winner and the first and only female victor of the Axis Tour) is perhaps more than just an overprotective brother, and that Luka (Adele's former love interest and Yael's competitor) carries his own complicated and intriguing secrets. Even with Hitler and the Third Reich, there is more than meets the eye.

They're definitely not joking around when they say it's Code Name Verity meets Inglourious Basterds. Wolf by Wolf is brilliant and exciting and suspenseful and mind-blowing, and I already can't wait to get my hands on the sequel (Fall 2016!) that concludes this duology.

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