Paul Dowswell, Wolf Children, Bloomsbury, Nov 2017, 279pp., $14.99 (pbk), ISBN: 9781408858516
Post war Belin is a desperate place full of desperate people; no sanitation, little food, a city in ruins and a population in chaos. In the midst of this turmoil a group of children hide out in the basement of a derelict hospital and try to survive on their wits. The disparate group includes the twins Klaus and Erich who amuse themselves lighting fires beneath unexploded ordinance. The brothers Otto and Ulrich are searching for their missing parents, with Ulrich clinging to Nazi promises of glory and seeking members of the resistance who will rise up to drive out the invaders. Their friend, Helene, offers a steadying presence. There is also a little girl, Hannah, who mysteriously disappears one day leaving the others to wonder if she has fallen victim to the rumoured cannibals who steal vulnerable children for their meat. As the first the Russians and then the Americans occupy the devastated city, dangerous characters prowl around the children, including a ruthless war criminal, a secretive doctor and gangs of youths who roam the lawless streets looking for weaker children to steal from.
Paul Dowswell’s novel is an exciting adventure of survival and friendship set against a backdrop of suffering and chaos. Yet it is the qualities of endurance, perseverance and hope that triumph and leave the reader with a sense of hope. The characters are memorable and sympathetically drawn while the action moves at a quick pace and leaves the reader wanting to read the next chapter. Wolf Children can stand beside classic books such as The Silver Sword and I Am David in the way it brings a tragic period of a not-too-distant history to life and raises questions about war, the rise of extremist views and indoctrination. It would make a worthy class novel at lower secondary level and is highly recommended for readers of that age group.
Reviewed by John Nolan