Wolf by Wolf is one of those books I cannot stop talking about - and which I am four kinds of frustrated because my friends have not read it yet and don't understand what all the fuss is about.
On BookCrossing I have this tagged as Mystery/Thriller, because Action/Adventure is not an option. Yael is herself a mystery, the unexpected consequence of a science experiment to further perfect the appearance of humanity, and her adventures are certainly thrilling - the pacing, with the events of the present and past alternating in the storyline help keep you from getting to worked up all at once, until the end that is.
The setting is an alternative past, one in which the Allied forces of the UK, Russia, U.S. and resistance movements lost the war; a world where Adolf Hitler has achieved the supremacy of the Third Reich over Europe, and the globe is split in an uneasy peace between the forces of the Hitler's Reich in the West and Hirohito's Empire in the East.
The International Olympic Committe is no more - there are no longer enough independent countries to compete - but the desire to celebrate the fitness and vitality of youth hasn't been lost, and so the East and West come together in celebration of their unified victory with the Annual Axis Tour, a grueling motorcycle race from Berlin to Tokyo, where the finest specimens of Aryan and Japanese youths vye for the title of Victor.
This is where Yael comes in - a master impostor, raised first in the labour camps, later on the streets, and finally growing into womanhood under master tutelage in the Resistance, she has trained to take the place of the lone female racer representing Germany. When she wins the race she will have the chance of a lifetime - to attend a dinner with the Axis leaders, and perhaps find herself dancing cheek to cheek with the Fuhrer himself.
Being an impostor is hard - harder still when you are pretending to be someone who's already achieved fame and is under constant scrutiny from her fellow competitors and the Reichssender cameras at every checkpoint; even more difficult when your fellow competitors include a racer with whom your subject has a previously acrimonious history and her twin brother.
One of Jennifer Donnelly's characters once said that hope was 'the crystal meth of emotions' leading you on through through pain and possibility to the inevitable crash. It's hope, then, that drives Yael. Under all the pain, violence and suffering, the broken bodies and broken hearts, it's hope that drives Yael onward; hope that she can be the change the world needs, hope that all the lives lost to war will not have been lost in vain.
Part of the success of this book for me is not just that, even in it's darkest moments (chapter 11 is where things seem to all come crashing down), it remains incredibly hopeful, but also that it's characters are drawn so deftly - so clearly alive. From the spotted boy who makes the sign of the cross, to the racer who wants to teach literature, they are all real people you might know - and they become people you can't help but root for, pray for, hold your breath for, and when the hammer falls, you hope their hope will not be in vain.
This book is reviewed on BookCrossing.com, BCID 680-13751697 If you have read this book and would like to post a review, please share your reactions in the comments below or at BookCrossing.