Levine’s Literature Lowdown: best of 2017’s Black-Eyed Susan nominees

Our world today is a combination of billions of events, clashing and intertwining to create change. The smallest decision can sometimes spiral out control into change beyond its original scope. Our fragile world today is only as it is thanks to the innumerable events that happened exactly the way they did. But what if they didn’t?

Ryan Graudin explores our potential realities by delving into one where the Axis powers prevail in World War II. In it, we follow Yael, a six-year-old Jewish girl, with her story beginning on a train to a German concentration camp. Upon arrival at the camp, Yael is singled out by an intimidating man in a white lab coat to be a subject for experiments. Day after day Yael is injected and knows nothing but the suffering wrought by the experimental drugs. She is only subject 121358ΔX, part of experiment 85.

Yael’s life is dismal until one day she discovers an unintended side effect of the experiments, the ability to skinshift. Possessing the ability to rearrange bone structure, DNA and vocal chords, Yael can now transform herself to look like any female on Earth. She uses her newfound ability to escape the concentration camp and lives her life as a recluse of society until she runs into members of the resistance, a tri-continent spanning force dedicated to taking down Hitler and his empire. Yael decides to make use of her talents and trains to be a resistance member capable of anything.

The real story begins as Yael has the mission she has been waiting years for presented to her: kill Hitler. Every year, the Third Reich and Imperial Japan host the Axis tour, a race dedicated to displaying the union and strength of the two nations. The event is a motorbike race from Berlin all the way to Tokyo with the 20 best racer youths from the nations.

Her mission is to kidnap and impersonate last year’s victor, Adele Wolfe, win the race and get close enough to Adolf Hitler as he congratulates her at the end of the race to kill him. Yael’s simple enough mission gets complicated as Adele’s brother Felix Wolfe enters the race and another racer, Luka Löwe, seems to have a history with Adele not mentioned in her background file.

Wolf by Wolf excels in portraying its deep complex characters. This is most especially seen as Yael’s personal identity clashes with the Adele who she is impersonating. As she loses herself, she is reminded only by her mission and the numbers forever stained into her arm who she is. The book explores the tension between Yael’s internal and external identities, looks into the scenario “what if the Nazis won,” and involves supernatural thrills in the setting of a gripping motorbike race, collectively combining into a story worth reading. This upcoming winter break, for anyone who has the time to read this moderate length book, I urge you to do so.
 

Aaron Levine

Managing Editor

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