Death is a necessary part of life, and it has captured humans’ attention for millennia. Even after studying death and how different cultures respond to it, though, it takes on a different feeling when it affects you directly. I’ve had loved ones die, but up until recently, I was either too young or too naive to truly comprehend exactly what was happening. I have great respect for those who help usher people on their way, especially the hospice nurse who kindly explained her perspective of the process when my grandmother passed earlier this summer. Some people experience deep loss much earlier in life than I did, and sometimes books like The Wolf’s Curse by Jessica Vitalis are just the remedy to help heal from this experience.
The Wolf’s Curse is narrated by the Great White Wolf, a creature who is largely misunderstood by the people of Bouge-by-the-Sea. Her role is to help usher souls to the Woods Beyond, but she has earned a reputation of stealing those souls, instead. Because of this, a boy named Gauge has been shunned from his community since he possesses the rare gift of being able to see the Wolf. When Gauge’s grandfather is no longer able to protect him from the judgement of the others, Gauge must find a way to clear his name or escape before it is too late. Please see my full review here.
I loved the design and delivery of this book. As it is told from the perspective of the Wolf, the narrator is unique and compelling, driving me to keep turning the pages to learn what Gauge would do next and how the challenges in the plot would be resolved. There is also strong French language influence in the names used in this story, which I greatly appreciated. Though this is a fictionalized world, the events within it resonate strongly with readers of all ages and backgrounds as death is a universal experience.
Within the story, Gauge begins to question the rituals he has come to believe are fixed and critical to a soul passing effectively to the other side. However, circumstances in the narrative make him skeptical, and the reader receives feedback from the Wolf to encourage this line of questioning. Many times, children find themselves believing whatever their parents do is the right and only way by default, and children can become disillusioned if/when those behaviors are revealed to be less defined than they thought. Even though there is a purpose behind different actions, it is not always clear where the line between fiction and reality really lies.
I loved the profound descriptions in this story, including a line about memories being like bruises: strong at first but fading with time. I’ve found this to be true in my own life, and it is a visual that will stick with me. Another line reinforces the message that “just because we’ve done something a certain way doesn’t mean we can’t change.” This is as pertinent today as it ever was, and it is an important adage to keep in mind. Change is what keeps us moving forward, especially when we realize the flaws in the way things have always been done.
This is an important story that will resonate with readers of all ages. Expertly designed, readers will leave considering life and death as they know it in a different way. I highly recommend this book for libraries for middle grade readers, and I encourage older readers to check this story out, as well.
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