Thursday, November 03, 2011

Beverly Slapin's review of WOLF MARK, by Joseph Bruchac

Below is Beverly Slapin's review of Joseph Bruchac's new book, Wolf Mark.  It may not be reprinted elsewhere without her written permission. All rights reserved.

Bruchac, Joseph, Wolf Mark. Lee & Low, 2011, grades 7-up

Joe Bruchac is not yet known for his YA werewolf/vampire/espionage novels, but this talented writer can sure pull off the genre(s). Middle readers who have the ability to suspend disbelief will relate to the teen protagonist, an Abenaki wolf-boy with multiple challenges. Such as doing well in school and winning over the girl he really likes. Such as keeping himself from ripping out someone’s throat when he’s annoyed or angry. Such as rescuing his father from a megalomaniac gene-blending scientist who’s plotting to take over the world.

In Wolf Mark, everything is extreme: the action, the gore, the metaphors, the allusions to uncontrolled corporate greed that threatens to devour us all. And amidst all of this, Bruchac takes every opportunity to bust stereotypes: about American Indians, about women, about Muslims, about Russians, about werewolves and vampires.

In what may be a parody of badly written YA novels featuring Indian protagonists who abruptly break the narrative in order to insert for young non-Indian readers the supposedly required ethnographic expositions, our Abenaki wolf-boy hero breaks his narrative in order to posit a Freudian analysis of himself: “Was that bloodthirsty, drooling monster a virtual manifestation of my own out-of-control animal nature? Or an archetype? Not a creature threatening me from outside but the beast within?” Or maybe it’s a parody of such paragons of horror as H.P. Lovecraft.

Not dissimilar to what Thomas King did in Green Grass, Running Water, Bruchac places an allusion, covert or overt, on almost every page. There are snippets from poems cleverly disguised as the narrator’s own words and not-so-hidden references to “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Rocky and Bullwinkle.” There’s a nod to the wisdom of Pogo. There’s a melding of Jack Kerouac and Jack London, and of Lon Chaney and Dick Cheney. There are quotes from Shakespeare, Stephen King and Joe Friday; lyrics from “The Wizard of Oz,” Piledriver and Bob Dylan; and rewriting of some of the winning entrants from the Bulwer-Lytton bad prose contests (my favorite being “a constellation of zits”). And, in homage to Thomas King, Bruchac gives his name to the protagonist’s father.

This reader wildly careened between being breathlessly swept up in the action and deflecting mixed metaphors and movie plots. And loved every minute.

The end, of course, is entirely predictable, yet ultimately satisfying. Sort of like when you’re sucking the last bit of vanilla ice cream down the bottom of a sugar cone after you’ve bitten off the tip.

So, Joe, when’s the sequel coming out and when do you expect Spielberg to call?

—Beverly Slapin


Gabriele Bianchetti said...

I'm definitively going to buy this book, too, since I really enjoy books with animal-human protagonists, and it's even better with a teaspoon of Abenaki lore!

Gabriele Bianchetti said...

Time to review!
I finally bought and read this book and yes, I definitively agree with Beverly Slapin's comment. It's a pretty good book with the right amount of everyday matter and the right amount of adventure and drama. The characters are pretty well written, and behave in a believable way. I also learned something about Abenaki and Iroquois cultures.
A very good book! Now, it's time to dive into 'Green grass, running water'!