by Frances Wilbur
Thirteen-year-old Cassie is lonely and miserable. She gets teased about her weight, her best friend started hanging out with other girls, her parents are split and she suspects her mom is dating a new man. She feels like her mom criticizes her too much and at one point thinks of just running away. Then a big white dog shows up in her backyard. She starts feeding it, thinking it can become her pet. Does odd jobs for neighbors to earn money for dog food. Reads books about dogs from the school library, but \”her\” dog doesn\’t seem to fit any of the descriptions. Then a teacher loans her a book about wolves (it\’s Of Wolves and Men!) and she is shocked to find that the dog might actually be an arctic wolf. Now Cassie feels she has even more problems: what\’s a wolf doing in her neighborhood? can she really tame and keep it? is somebody looking for it?
I really liked some things about this book, and had issues with others. It\’s a very nice, refreshing depiction of wolves in a book for kids. Like Flight of the White Wolf, the animal\’s behavior is realistic and bucks stereotypes; in this case it highlights how friendly the wolf can be after it finally trusts Cassie, how mischievous and independent and also destructive, when at one point she coaxes it into the house. I liked that Cassie showed some character development, and it was rather subtle- she overcomes her shyness to find work, realizes she misjudged some people in her life, starts to socialize more with a kid at school, and even looses weight (taking long walks uphill with the wolf). However the writing style is rather flat and simple, and some aspects of the story I felt were way too obvious, as if put in there just to make a point. It really bothered me that when Cassie is upset about her mother going to dinner with a man and feels her problems are overwhelming, she briefly thinks of suicide- because she\’d heard a kid at school had done so the year before. The idea was immediately dismissed, but I found that upsetting: WHY throw that detail in there, if you\’re going to deal with it so casually? it didn\’t really fit in the story (the running away idea made more sense). The writing seems aimed at middle grade readers, but then the themes are much more mature- especially that one mention of suicide.
But it\’s a great story about a wolf. And the ending has some heightened drama which will appeal to kids- of course there are people with guns coming after the wolf (first hunters – including one of the girl\’s classmates – then police). There\’s an animal control office who chats with Cassie throughout the book, interested in catching the wolf to give to someone who trains wild animals. And then it looks like Cassie might actually track down the real owners- because this is obviously a wolf that\’s already been socialized to people. It has a good ending. Which is really nice after all the Ernest Thompson Seton I\’ve been reading (see the next post).
Rating: 3/5 193 pages, 1998