Julie of the Wolves is one of the wilder, out-there children’s books I’ve read. George clearly loves survival novels, as she also wrote My Side of the Mountain. Julie of the Wolves, however, has the titular character surviving in the wilds of Alaska while also being accepted into a wolf pack. (!?)
The book’s premise is bonkers, and I honestly have no idea if any of the things that Miyax does to ingratiate herself into the wolf pack would actually work, especially since I know that wolf packs work differently than what was thought back when the book was written. But it does make the book incredibly interesting, so there’s that positive going for it.
I enjoyed the way George used Miyax’s name to
highlight important moments. She’s Miyax in the wilderness, Julie in
civilization, and then Julie again at the end of the book when she realizes
that she can’t live the way she wants. It’s interesting to see her struggle
with the realization that her father, the great Eskimo hunter, has succumbed to
the dominant ideas, and the way that his killing of Amaroq is almost akin to
the death of a lasting Eskimo culture. And her shedding of her name, Miyax, and
taking up the English name, Julie, is the last signal in the book that
everything has changed.
George is playing around with and showing a lot of
interesting and important ideas in Julie
of the Wolves, but it’s ruined slightly by the sheer “But would it work!?”
surreal angle of the basic plot. I’m also not sure how well explaining being
married at thirteen to the readers of this book would go, as well as the scary
scene in the middle where Daniel attacks Julie. And, to be honest, I think a
lot of the nuance in the book would fly over a younger reader’s head (you’d be
amazed at the sorts of things my high school students miss in books).
Recommended Age Range: 8+
Warnings: Some slight, brief indication of domestic abuse/attempted rape.
My Side of the Mountain is a survival novel a lá Hatchet, though Sam willingly chooses to live off the land in this book, as opposed to the protagonist of Hatchet, who is forced to do so after a plane crash. I found it amusing that the author’s note to this book states that the publisher was originally unwilling to publish a book that featured a boy running away and living off the land, lest kids also want to do so—reading this book almost 60 years later, it’s hard to imagine any teenage boy today doing what Sam in this book does.
The survival aspect of this book is the most interesting part, as George details what Sam does to survive a summer and winter on the side of a mountain. It almost seems too good to be true—Sam is so knowledgeable about vegetation and the wilderness that the novel almost has a fantastical, or at least exaggerated, atmosphere to it. The conflict in the book is of the natural variety, as the adults and other children he runs into are always curious and pleasant, rather than hostile. This poses a problem to the realism, though perhaps that’s modern culture speaking—I can’t imagine all of the adults being so nonchalant about Sam’s living on his own. Even his father exudes more awe at his son’s abilities than relief that his son is alive.
The ending is definitely of the fantastic variety, a sappy, feel-good ending that smacks perhaps too much of the glory of the country/wilderness as opposed to the darkness of the city. That’s really the main problem of this book—everything is just a little too pat, people react just a little too nonchalantly. There is a blissful, “I’m right to live in the wilderness” undertone that eats a little at the survival aspect. My Side of the Mountain is not as frantic nor as tense and dangerous as a book like Hatchet, which makes it perhaps better suited for certain ages, but it’s too light and fluffy to be a compelling survival novel.