YA Weekend: Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

An ARC was provided by the publisher via NOVL in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Wolf by WolfWolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

Genre: Young Adult, Alternate History

Series: Book 1 of Wolf by Wolf

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This has been an amazing year for YA fiction, and to be honest my bar has been raised so high I’m surprised anything can still blow me away at this late stage in 2015. Still, I knew I had a good feeling about Ryan Graudin’s Wolf by Wolf, an alternate history novel set in a world where the Axis powers rule the world. Enter the Resistance’s only hope, a teenage girl who needs to win a motorcycle race from Berlin to Tokyo in order to assassinate Hitler.

At the risk of sounding frivolous in light of the novel’s dark themes, I still remember the first time I heard about this book. For a few astonished minutes, I sat and stared at the publisher’s description thinking, Are you kidding me? This sounds like the most awesome premise ever.

It is 1956, eleven years after Yael first escaped from the Nazi death camp where she was subjected to horrific human experimentation. Side effects from those experiments left her with an uncanny ability to skinshift—with just one thought, she can take on the appearance of someone else. This has made her central to the Resistance’s plans. Yael’s mission: to win the Axis Tour, the annual intercontinental motorcycle race, by impersonating Adele Wolfe, the only female to have ever entered. As last year’s winner, Adele was granted an audience with the highly reclusive Adolf Hitler at the Victor’s Ball. But this year when she wins and dances with Hitler again, it will be Yael behind Adele’s face instead, ready with a blade to sink between his ribs.

That’s if everything goes as planned, of course. Yael has spent the last year training, learning how to race motorcycles, and studying all the footage and files on Adele Wolfe that the Resistance can get their hands on. But then the unexpected happens. Felix Wolfe, Adele’s twin brother, joins the race last minute, putting the whole plan at risk. Then there’s Luka, another past victor who is determined to win his second Axis Tour. Apparently, Luka and Adele had a romantic history, but it was in none of the files Yael studied and she knows nothing about the relationship. The race is hard enough with the cutthroat competition and more than twenty thousand kilometers of harsh road to the finish line, but now Yael will have to carry out her deception in the presence of the two people who knew Adele best. The odds are long, but Yael has to win—the world is depending on her success so that the Resistance can launch the next phase of their operation.

As intrigued as I was by the story, at first I had my doubts that Ryan Graudin could pull it off, since a good book is more than just a great premise. However, I needn’t have worried. The blurb pitches Wolf by Wolf as Code Name Verity meets Inglourious Basterds, but I’d say throw in a little bit of Survivor and The Amazing Race too. We get the gist of the plot in the first fifty pages, but the rest of the book—the race itself—is the masterpiece, checkpoint after checkpoint of dangerous adventure and exciting alliances and rivalries. I’m so impressed with how much action is packed into what could have been pages of tedium over the course of this long journey, but the story turned out to be as twisty as the road to Tokyo, full of unexpected surprises and memorable experiences.

This book would have been a quick read had real life not gotten so busy lately, and believe you me I had a difficult time putting it down when all I wanted to do was to curl up with it for a few undisturbed hours, learning all of Yael’s secrets. She’s such a complex character, having survived so much horror. Flashbacks from her past are woven into the narrative of the race, revealing how she and her mother were sent to the concentration camp, how Yael eventually escaped, and how she ended up with the Resistance. We learn how Yael was shaped by the important people in her life. After all the years and all the identities, Yael has forgotten her real face, but she will never forget her loved ones and how their lives made a difference in hers.

Also, while we don’t get to see much of the real Adele Wolfe, the girl Yael is tasked to impersonate is an intriguing question mark in her own way. There are many gaps in Yael’s knowledge about the other girl, a fact made painfully obvious whenever Felix or Luka bring up past events that she has no knowledge of. We’re piecing things together along with Yael, trying to pick out clues from snatches of conversation. Wolf by Wolf is full of action, but it’s also one giant intriguing puzzle, and I loved how the adventurous and suspenseful elements came together.

I was really surprised to discover halfway through reading Wolf by Wolf that there will be a sequel (which clued me in to a not-so-tidy ending) but after finishing the book you can bet I’ll be reading the next one too. Ryan Graudin created something phenomenally unique and amazing here; so many things could have worked out poorly but the end result turned out to be almost flawless. I can’t wait to see what other surprises the author has in store.

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16 Comments on “YA Weekend: Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

  1. This sounds freaking AMAZING! My cousin actually nabbed me a copy at BEA this year but ended up packing it in with her books…and being the lazy person that I am, I have yet to retrieve it XD Now that I’ve read your review here, I know that I MUST go get it. I love the sound of the alternate history and the time period! The MC sounds amazing and overall I’m really impressed! Random thought: the MC shares my grandmother name which I think is cool 😉

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    • Haha, you know what you must do now…retrieve it! 🙂 I had an amazing time with it, and the story really delivered what the awesome description promised 🙂

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  2. Yay and Phew! I’m really glad you liked this one because I think it is way at the tippity top of the TBR mountain. I may have to force myself to wait though if it’s going to be a series.

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    • Yeah, I was a little surprised to find out it was a series. It would’ve been nice if it had been neatly tied up…but then, we would have gotten that crazy ending 😉

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  3. Interesting! I wasn’t so sure about trying this book but your review has convinced me it’s worth a go! I think I am in the mood for some thrilling survivor-style adventures lately – sounds like something that would be fun to read 🙂

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    • Yeah, as I said in another comment above, this book was perfect for post-Thanksgiving craziness. I tried to read it during the holidays and it got to be too hard with all the distractions – I just wanted to curl up with it and binge read! When things calmed down, that’s exactly what I did 🙂

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  4. I’ve seen this novel around a lot lately, but the summary doesn’t sound good to me at all. The skinshifting part does sound cool though!

    I was worried that the race wouldn’t be done that well, but sounds like it was excellent. I might have to read this one after all. Thanks for the warning about the ending.

    I’m sorry life interfered with your reading.

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  5. Pingback: Mogsy’s Bookshelf Roundup: Stacking the Shelves, Coloring Books, Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

  6. Pingback: YA Weekend Audio: Blood for Blood by Ryan Graudin | The BiblioSanctum

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