Book Review: Wolf by Wolf

20522640Novel: Wolf by Wolf (Wolf by Wolf, #1) by Ryan Graudin | Goodreads
Release Date: October 20th, 2015
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Format: ARC
Source: Author (Thanks, Ryan!)

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?

Graudin’s Walled City was one of my favorites of last year, as you can see in my gushing review, so I had high hopes for Wolf by Wolf – I expected a heart-racing plot, bold characters, and writing that lured me in.

And I got everything I asked for.

Wolf by Wolf is a masterpiece of historical fiction. Yael’s story weaves together magical realism and historical fiction, creating a complex and rich story of survival in a world where Hitler won WWII. As a self-proclaimed history nerd, I loved the world Graudin creates that is wrought with fear and deception. It mirrors much of what I’ve read about living under Hitler’s thumb: the constant check-ins, the ruthless Gestapo, and the brutal death camps that litter the Reich’s territory.

Yael herself is the definition of a kick-ass heroine. Harrowed by the pain of her past and driven by her hope for a better future, Yael pushes herself beyond her limits and takes on the identity of Adele Wolfe, the Axis Tour Victor. Adele and Yael couldn’t be more different on the outside: Adele is an Aryan beauty, Yael a Jewish girl. Enemies, even. And yet, as Yael claims Adele’s life, I saw their personalities bleeding. When Yael begins the Axis Tour, she thinks she knows everything about Adele, but as the kilometers fly by, Yael discovers Adele had secrets, and the two girls may be more alike than she realizes. This forces Yael to take chances as Adele and sacrifice her cover, trusting the two people who could break her mission in two: Luka, Adele’s former love interest, and Felix, Adele’s twin brother. Yael risks everything as she makes the choice between life and death, crossing kilometer after kilometer on her bike.

Luka and Felix continually surprised me, just like Yael. Graudin kept them human, despite being able to make the ruthless and flat. She gave them secrets and faults and made you question their motives constantly. Luka and Felix tested Yael and forced her to question her mission, making the story more complex and exciting to read.

What I adored most about this novel was the topic Graudin takes on: identity. Yael’s power to skinshift changes the game, allowing her to deceive everyone who comes her way, but it also means Yael doesn’t really have an identity. Who is a girl that doesn’t know her own face? Yael can’t remember what she looked like as a child, and so the identities she takes on become a part of her – names, appearances, lives. In the world of the Third Reich, identity is everything, because it can save you from death. The question of who we are is brought up over and over again in Wolf by Wolf, especially in Yael’s situation.

I can’t recommend Wolf by Wolf enough. It doesn’t matter what kind of books you like – you’ll find something to latch onto. Graudin has crafted another beautifully woven story of survival, identity, and truth that I fell in love with.