I’ve been interested in reading Wolves, Boys, & Other Things That Might Kill Me ever since I read Holly’s review where she said her “expectations held up from the first page until the last”. Yup, it was grabbed on an impulse at this bookstore when I was in Southern New England, and I settled into it quite happily when I got home.
The Premise: When the wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National park, it was to put the park’s ecosystem back into balance, but for the locals that live around the park, many of them farmers with herds of animals to keep safe, the wolves are a threat to their livelihood. KJ grew up in West End, Montana, and has always been the gawky girl who kept her head down, but lately that has changed. KJ is suddenly getting noticed – both for growing out of her awkwardness, and for speaking out about the wolves. Everyone has an opinion on this hot topic, and not everyone is happy with KJ’s involvement. Even KJ’s taciturn father, and Virgil, the boy she has a crush on, don’t always see eye to eye with her on the wolves. The more KJ tries to make things better, the worse it seems to get.
My Thoughts: Wolves, Boys & Other Things That Might Kill Me is a YA that stands out from the pack. Yes, it is a coming of age story like a lot of YA out there is, but I felt like there was a different air to KJ’s character than your typical teen-aged girl. Maybe it was her upbringing in Montana with a gruff and outdoorsy father, or maybe it’s the many embarrassing experiences already under her belt, but in this story KJ has a quiet assurance that she never seems to lose. For example, when she comes back to school her junior year looking less “like a Peppermint Patty” and gets comments from friends, she may be perturbed at first, but soon moves on. It was so nice NOT to read about a teen girl who sweats over what other people think or want. That’s not to say that KJ doesn’t come across as the young and inexperienced kid she is – she does that plenty. It’s just that being self-sufficient and following her own council are not things she needs to work on.
Instead, for KJ, growing up involves discovering her passion for the wolves reintroduced into Yellowstone. It’s not really KJ’s intention to be associated with the debate, but she has no choice on the matter when she’s assigned to write a column about the wolves for her school’s newspaper. Her innocuous article that doesn’t condemn the wolves’ presence (and may instead romanticize them), creates a stir from the local farmers. As more livestock is killed, the anger and frustration increases. Wolf-friendly overtures are met with violence. It’s easy to paint the farmers as narrow-minded hicks, and that’s something KJ thinks at first, but the more she gets involved the more she has to look at the story from the other side and understand where the anger is coming from. KJ’s straight-talking voice captures the complexity of the whole situation. A cast of characters from Virgil’s wolf researcher mother to the class jerk whose family owns a farm bring perspectives from all sides. There’s even some friction between KJ, Virgil, and her own father over the whole thing
Wolves, Boys & Other Things That Might Kill Me doesn’t have pat and perfect answers. It simply shows the muddle that is human life. Even KJ’s romance with the zen new kid, is not immune. It was nice to see KJ and Virgil’s relationship blossom amongst the wolves and controversy, but they’re also two kids in high school. Like all things in this story, their interactions manage to be special and yet grounded in the real world.
I also have to make a mention of the special relationship KJ had with her dad. I loved all the shades of their relationship. He’s tough on KJ and is difficult to have a conversation with (KJ has learned to read her father based on body language and the occasional monosyllable), but he’s also protective. I adored their unique partnership, and for me one of the strongest father-daughter relationships I’ve read in YA. I actually wished there were more scenes with them alone.
I’d say that this book was one that quietly laid out the situation and left it at that. Much like KJ, it has no big flashy agenda, it just tells it like it is. I liked this, but it is a subtle sort of strength, not one that makes a obvious impression. For that reason, I feel that not everyone is going to be affected by this story. The other minor criticism I had is that KJ read much younger to me than sixteen. I had her pegged as a pretty independent twelve or thirteen until I was corrected by the jacket copy which says she’s a junior in high school. I think I would have liked this book a tad more if KJ felt more like a sixteen-year old to me while I read it.
Overall: You know the saying “still waters run deep”? I feel like if you take that and apply it to a teenage girl, you have KJ, and that is funneled into the story told in Wolves, Boys, & Other Things That Might Kill Me. I was charmed by the unassuming style of this one, and I liked that it told a self-discovery story that felt real and nuanced. But I also feel that its strength is subtle, easing back from rather than lingering on the dramatic and emotional scenes.
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Book Harbinger – positive
Book Fare Delights – 5 out of 5