Julie of the Wolves was the book that spurred my obsession with wolves when I was younger. I loved (and still love) Julie/Miyax’s interactions with the wolves, but when I compare this to Paulsen’s Brian’s Saga series, this story feels more tame. However, this story offers something deeper: a sense of self-discovery, the struggles of culture identity, and a look at Inuit culture and the scenery of the Alaskan wild.
When thirteen-year-old Julie Edwards Miyax Kapugen starts to feel the strain in her arranged marriage and the troubles in her husband’s parents’ home, she sets off across the Alaskan wilderness to make her way to San Francisco where Amy, her pen pal, lives. As her food supplies dwindles, Miyax seeks help from a nearby wolf pack; remembering advice from her deceased father and observing how the wolves behaved around each other, Miyax slowly develops a close relationship with the alpha male, Amaroq, and the rest of the pack. However, as she ventures closer and closer to human settlements again, Miyax needs to prepare herself – and the wolves – for her return to civilization.
Julie/Miyax is a character with whom I can really relate to, and she’s inspiring in so many ways. She’s independent, patient, and resourceful, and her reflections of the past are detailed and quite touching. I’m sure that many of us are able to relate to her experiences of feeling like an outsider and not fitting in, which make up the basis of her struggles with her own cultural identity. It’s like she’s two people – Julie to all her American friends and classmates, and Miyax to all her Eskimo ones. Julie is the one she leaves behind during her journey, and because of her background and her personality, Miyax was able to learn a lot from the wolves and from her environment.
Throughout her journey, Miyax recounts the story of her entire life. A central piece in her life has always been her father, Kapugen, and it’s interesting to see how Amaroq represents Kapugen in some way while Miyax is out in the wild. Kapugen symbolizes everything Miyax loves about her Inuit roots, and I was sad to see Miyax being torn between two cultures. It makes me wonder whether there can ever be a balance between two cultures when you have been raised in both, or if one always has to dominate. So in this sense, even though I thought the “adventure” or “survival” parts of this book weren’t as excitingly-close-to-death as other survival books, the realistic fiction part of Julie of the Wolves is beautifully done.
And the wolves are just amazing. Miyax, with her keen eyes, is able to distinguish and name them based on personalities and physical appearances. What was really appealing to me was that George described the nature of the pack and the different units of the pack in a simple and subtle manner that made it feel like I was reading a book about wolves, but that wasn’t really about wolves; this book is about the wolves, the girl, and the girl’s father, but the wolves really tie everything together.
This story made me fall in love with wolves – George imprinted upon me the dangerous but familial nature of these creatures, and Miyax showed me how intelligent and kind they can be. The issue of cultural identity and, just in general, belonging, is a prominent theme that is both thought-provoking and relatable, and I’m excited to see what George has in store for Miyax in the next book.