I find myself at my first challenge with these posts in relation to my work. I have been reading steadier than my numbers would indicate, but it is book awards season. More specifically, it is Moonbeam Children’s Book Award season. I am reading and consulting with judges on some amazing books, from picture books to YA titles. As the official results have not fully been announced, I cannot share which ones I have had a chance to read over. Among all this work, I have not forgotten about the Banned Book Challenge, my reading is just a little more broken up because of my other books.
Now that is out of the way, onto Julie of the Wolves, a book I was very surprised to find on the list. This was assigned to me in elementary school.
As the story begins we find Miyax alone in the wilds of Alaska studying wolves. She has managed to survive using the training her father, a great hunter, taught her but she is struggling. After studying a particular pack of wolves led by an alpha dog she named Amaroq, she follows the lead of his son Kapu and is soon accepted as another cub in the pack.
Through flashbacks it is revealed that Miyax used to live with her father, Kapugen, but her mother died when she was young. Her father was then sent to war and she was forced to live with her Aunt Martha, a mainstreamed Eskimo, and take the English name Julie. Her attempts to fit into the new culture were awkward and uncomfortable. Her ray of hope came in the form of letters from a pen pal named Amy from San Francisco.
At thirteen, Aunt Martha arranged for Julie to marry Daniel, the son of her father’s friend. Daniel is clearly slow witted, but her father had approved. Life after marriage was somewhat tolerable for Julie, though her father-in-law is a mean drunk. One day, Daniel came home in a state, muttering about teasing by the other men, and raped Julie. Immediately after he left, Julie packed up some essential supplies and set off for San Francisco to find her friend Amy.
This is the scene most often cited in challenges. Until I reread it, I did not really think of it as a rape. It was a gross, violent act. Regardless, the actually rape is only a couple powerful, but vague sentences. George handles the subject matter quite well.
As her escape began, Miyax (she took back her name in the wild) got lost on the tundra and had to look to the wolves for help and the story is back in the present again.
She continues to live with them until she realizes it is hunting season for the humans. After a tragedy, Miyax knows she must leave the pack so they can survive. Her travels take her closer to land where humans are settled, so she builds what would be commonly called an igloo, though she never refers to it as such. Eventually, she is discovered by an Eskimo couple out hunting. After reconnecting with people again, she finds out her father is actually still alive. She is distraught to find out he has adopted the ways of the white men, even hunting from planes now.
In the end, Miyax/Julie stays in society and is forced to face the future the rest of her tribe must face- tradition vs. survival. It is a powerful and beautiful books.