Jason Cockcroft, We Were Wolves, Walker Books Australia, May 2021, 216 pp., RRP $26.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781839130571
This powerful first-person illustrated narrative is the story of a young boy living with his father John in the woods. Boy never tells us his name, implying he could be anyone, but describes his life with his father, John, who has PTSD after his time in the army; life with no school but a father who loves the poet Blake and who loves reading. Mam is in the background and recognises all the flaws in her estranged husband, and in her son. For a while, the boy has to cope with living alone in the cold damp caravan, when his father is imprisoned; and then adjust to living with all his father’s mood swings, invisible demons and unspoken love as well as his father’s determination to pull off his last big job which will give them the money to set themselves up far away. The reader learns of the boy’s developing and essentially supportive relationship with Sophie. Mythological beasts are woven throughout the telling, making the reader wonder whether the boy’s imagination is working overtime, or whether the landscape itself has been haunted for an age. They are as important as the threatening and dangerous other men who appear.
The early part of the book is slightly confusing and complex as the boy establishes all the strands of his story. He continually tells us the ending, blaming himself for all that happens, but not the detail which slowly unfurls. His voice is at times naïve and at others, extremely mature and analytical. He has to make decisions which many of us would find difficult: the challenge of doing right compared with staying loyal to those you love. The themes are family, loss, love, the natural world, PTSD, and other mental health issues, which means there are lots of discussion in the school environment.
Mol, the dog, appeared from nowhere and becomes an important support for the boy, giving unconditional love and affection. She disappears just as quickly as she arrived, once the inevitable ending happens.
We Were Wolves is beautifully written, with strong verbal imagery supported by powerful pencil sketches. It’s a story which will remain with me for a long time. Mature younger YA readers will enjoy this though there are many readers who won’t see the point as it’s not fast paced and action packed, until the end.
Reviewed by Maureen Mann