Our review this week is for a book I liked a whole lot. But I am not alone. Turns out it was the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association’s June Children’s Pick for Reading the West, the program that highlights books either about or written by authors in the Mountains & Plains region. And this book (and the author for that matter) definitely falls in that category.
Wolves, Boys and Other Things That Might Kill Me
By Kristen Chandler
KJ lives in a small town just outside Yellowstone National Park where her father owns a successful outdoors-store and hunting/fishing guide business. Although not exactly content to stay in the background, she has no intention of ever seeking the limelight. Then for the school newspaper, she is asked to write a series of articles about the controversial wolves that have been reintroduced into Yellowstone. She intends for the series to be balanced, but when the first article is pro-wolf, and when she becomes involved with a visiting pro-wolf student, the town turns out to be anything but balanced. Violence erupts, and KJ’s world turns inside out.
This would be another well-written, fascinating book about a reluctant activist being drawn into a world of ecological awareness she had never previously considered. It’s also a tale that shows how little it can take to bring deep seeded hatreds flying back to the surface. In this case, the spark is a single newspaper article written in a high school paper — not normally a catalyst for social change.
But at it’s heart this book is really more about a girl trying to find her own feelings on the subject. KJ loves the wolves but she can see the ranchers’ perspective. She likes and is drawn to the boy, Virgil, but she can see how he might be too much for some of her classmates. Kj is trying to find herself, but she’s doing it not through thinking constantly of herself, like in many teen books, but by mirroring her self-discovery onto the issue of the wolves. In many ways the division of the town over the wolves is a metaphor for the division in KJ herself.
I would recommend this book for kids 15 & up or really advanced readers 13 & up. Nothing in the book is unsuitable for younger teens (despite some violence), but the book is a harder read literature-wise than many teen books. It is a deep book that makes you think and consider with very few lighthearted moments to break the tension. However, it is also a brilliant book that should be read by all teens at some point if only to remind them that divisive issues do exist and that sometimes we must make a painful choice.