Miyax, like many adolescents, is torn. But unlike most, her choices may determine whether she lives or dies. At 13, an orphan, and unhappily married, Miyax runs away from her husband’s parents’ home, hoping to reach San Francisco and her pen pal. But she becomes lost in the vast Alaskan tundra, with no food, no shelter, and no idea which is the way to safety. Now, more than ever, she must look hard at who she really is. Is she Miyax, Eskimo girl of the old ways? Or is she Julie (her “gussak”-white people-name), the modernized teenager who must mock the traditional customs? And when a pack of wolves begins to accept her into their community, Miyax must learn to think like a wolf as well. If she trusts her Eskimo instincts, will she stand a chance of surviving?
Julie, also known as Miyax, is walking from Barrow, Alaska to Point Hope, Alaska. She is alone on the Arctic tundra and is determined to get passage to San Francisco and a new life. But she is lost and must rely on the teachings of her father and the help of a wolf pack to survive. Julie adapts to life on the tundra but still struggles with her identity. Is she Julie the Alaskan or Miyax the Inupiat?
I first read Julie of the Wolves when I was twelve years old. I couldn’t put it down. Here was a young girl (the same age as me) struggling to identify who she was (so was I!) all while surviving on the Alaska tundra. Plus, she lived with wolves! I don’t know about y’all, but my dreams at 12 included owning a huge horse ranch with my own pack of tamed wolves. Yeah, this was the perfect book for me. I loved it, but a post on The Misfortune of Knowing pushed me to read it again as an adult. Plus, the story fit in perfectly with my arctic survival theme this month. I couldn’t put it down! My skin tingled with goose bumps and a single tear threatened to fall when I turned the last page. I still love this book!
Now there are some issues with Julie of the Wolves. The most notable is that it is marketed for 8-10 year olds but contains an attempted rape scene in Part Two. Julie marries at 13 so she can go to high school. Her husband, Daniel, has a learning disability but they are content acting like siblings until mocking at school pushes him to force himself on her. The scene is not descriptive and all that really happens is Daniel rips her dress and pins her to the ground before his fear makes him run. But, this is not something I would want to explain to an eight year old. This one paragraph turns many readers away. I don’t know if the attempted rape is a realistic event, but it fits with the culture and socio-economic issues that plague Julie’s world.
There are so many good lessons found in Julie of the Wolves. Julie escapes domestic violence and manages to survive in one of the most extreme climates in the world. She taught me that women could be strong, smart, and resourceful. George shows the good and bad of all the cultures Julie is exposed to; the gussak (lower 48), the Inupiat, and the wolf. She shows that it is prudent to hunt for food but wasteful to poach. Julie learns that she must adapt to survive, both in the wild and in a village. Julie of the Wolves teaches adaptation, survival, culture, and finding inner strength. I definitely recommend it. The good outweighs the bad.
Julie of the Wolves will always be special to me because of its influence on my youth. What books influenced you during your preteen years?