Julie of the Wolves

Book cover: 'Julie of the Wolves'
Jean Craighead George
Puffin Books
Number of pages: 
155 pages
Grade / Age level: 

Her Eskimo name is Miyax, her American name is Julie. She is journeying through the desolate North Slope of Alaska, from Barrow to Point Hope, and starving. There are no lemmings, which means there are no weasels, no white foxes, no snowy owls - in fact, no food that Miyax can catch with only a knife. Her only hope for survival, she feels, is to befriend the wolves, to become a member of their pack, and this she sets out to do.

The book is divided into three parts - the first part, Amaroq the Wolf, tells in intense anthropological detail how 13 year old Miyax strives to study and become accepted by the wolf pack so she can have a share of their kills. The tone is completely unsentimental but infused with the fervent admiration and affection Miyax feels for these fellow travelers.

The second part is a flashback recounting how Miyax was raised by her father in an Eskimo seal camp until the age of nine, when she had to live with her aunt in order to go to school. In order to escape from this life, she was willing to cooperate in the traditional child-marriage her father had arranged between her and a son of a friend in Barrow. Violence on the part of the young husband drives her into the wild; her goal is to reach a port town and sail to meet her pen pal Amy, who lives in San Francisco.

The third part tells of how her dreams of American civilization, symbolized by her friend Amy's pink room, are shattered by a new act of violence; this time against the wolf she has come to think of as a father. Is American civilization really so civilized after all? The final decision she has to make does not fall along simple black-and-white lines, just as the real-life balance between traditional and modern civilization is not an easy one for today's Eskimos to come to terms with.

This book is a difficult one to review in some ways. Miyax's character is beautifully drawn, and the wolves and the stunning Alaskan environment qualify as characters in their own right in this book. Miyax is so distinctively Eskimo, composing songs to the wolves and skinning caribou with her ulu, and yet so universally a young girl. I can picture some children loving this book and others being put off just because it is so unique.

There is nothing wrong with the morality presented in the story that I could find. Miyax strives to maintain her integrity throughout the book in the face of many difficulties. Yet the scene when her young, mentally disabled husband tries to force himself on her might be too much for young readers. It has a pivotal part in the story; it is not dwelt on inappropriately. I think I would give this to an older reader, perhaps a high schooler; with a younger child, you might want to pre-read the troubling section and perhaps discuss it beforehand.

Additional notes: 

This book has been recommended by some for our red flag list because of the troubling section mentioned in the review.

Review Date: 
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