Sep 14, 2009

Wolf by Gillian Cross

Wolf by Gillian Cross

‘The what?’ Cassy snorted and put the drawing down on the floor again. ‘That’s just nonsense. Wolves are wolves, and people are people.’
‘It’s not quite as simple as that.’ Robert looked earnest and pompous, as if he were giving a lecture. ‘The way we think about wolves is twisted up with the way we think about ourselves. We’d been linked for thousands of years. Perhaps for millions.’
Gillian Cross’ Carnegie Medal winning Wolf is not exactly a retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood” – it’s rather a story that incorporates and subverts some of the fairy tale’s main elements. And it does this in a very original way. Thirteen-year-old Cassy lives in London with her grandmother. Because Nan isn’t feeling very well, she sends Cassy to stay with her mother for some time. But Cassy can put two and two together, and she realizes that she’s always sent away after a stranger’s late-night visits to her grandmother’s flat .

Cassy’s mother, Goldie, lives with her partner and his son Robert. They run a company called Moongazer that puts together school plays, and the one they’re currently working on is about wolves: both the real animals and the mythical beasts. With Robert’s help, Cassy tries to find out the real reason why she was sent away by her Nan, as well as the identity of the real wolf at the door.

I loved Wolf: it's so smart and surprising. I’m not exactly sure what I expected when I picked it up, but what I got was something entirely different. This is a story about people, much more so than it is about wolves; about our potential for violence and kindness; about courage, resourcefulness, desperation and fear; about the things we believe in and the things we do.

But the wolves, of course, are still very much there. I love the fact that Wolf deconstructs the image we have of them without romanticizing them either. They’re neither monsters nor noble beasts: they’re animals, and the way we have chosen to perceive them says a lot more about us than it does about them. I also appreciate the fact that, without ever beating readers over the head with it, the book very much has an environmentalist slant.


Wolf and cub

But none of this actually is what is at the heart of this story. I can't tell you much more because this is a short book and it's very easy to give too much away. But I can say that the secret Cassy uncovers is, quite literally, a matter of life or death. And discovering it means she has to come to terms with her past, find a way to forgive those she loves the most, and rethink some of her assumptions about the world she lives in. Wolf is dark, mysterious, meaningful, and impossible to put down.

One more bit I liked:
‘What is this thing you’ve got about real life?’ Robert said quietly. ‘Real life and real people? That doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a way of making walls, to shut out what’s uncomfortable. And it doesn’t work, you know. If things are there, you have to admit it in the end.’
Other Opinions:
Words by Annie

(Did I miss yours?)


  1. I really like the sound of this one. I have just finished The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and found it a little disappointing due to the lack of wolves, but this one sounds much more wolf orientated.

  2. This sounds like one my son would love. He's a nut about wolf stories. I've added it to my wishlist. Thanks for the review!

  3. As a child, I never made the connection with wolves (despite an ardent attachment to Artemis, I'm not a dog person...), and that aspect of stories like Red Riding Hood always felt kind of blank. It's a feeling I've tried to catch later (the closest I've ever come is having a peculiar daydream about the entire story retold with a strange white housecat, once. THAT was a creepy experience), so I'm thinking about this book. Do you think it's better for someone who already likes the wolf motif, or is it good for people like me who've never been smart enough to get Little Red Riding Hood? :P

  4. I am so happy that you reviewed this book, Nymeth! Just last week I was looking everywhere for this book and wasn't able to find it at any of the libraries near me. I love your review.

  5. I've wanted to read this one ever since Annie did. I have to admit that I honestly can't get a good feel for this book from either of you (the nature of the book, I think), but you've both left me so incredibly intrigued. And with both of you enjoying it so much, well, I just can't go wrong, can I? :D

  6. Oh I loved this book. Gillian Cross is really good - there's so much more to her than the Demon Headmaster. But I think this is my favourite book of hers.

    Its such a strong book - and as you say, the way she draws out the real wolf, and the mythical wolf, and the human wolf. Amazing.

    I also enjoyed "The great elephant chase".

    Oh and I also loved "Chartbreak". That is about a girl who runs away to join a pop group with a very charismatic lead singer.

  7. Vivienne: I'm sad t hear the Joan Aiken was disappointing :( In this one the wolves are still more in the background, but less so than in Willoughby Chase.

    Nancy, I hope he does enjoy it!

    Jason: To be honest, I'm not sure if I get Little Red Riding Hood either :P I think this is a good book for anyone who's interesting in why we imagine wolves the way we do - what does that say about them, and about us? I hope that made sense :P

    Vasilly: I hope you manage to find it eventually! Have you read it before and wanted to read it again, or did you hear of it somewhere and that's why you were looking?

    Debi: I think that's because we were both trying to avoid spoilers :P The main thing this story is about is something we can't give away! I do think you'd enjoy it.

    Masha: This was my first time reading her, so thank you for recommending some more of her books!

  8. Nymeth, this book sounds wonderful. I love this, especially: "he way we have chosen to perceive them says a lot more about us than it does about them". I don't think I would have been drawn to this one, but now that I've read your review, I'm adding it to my list.

  9. This sounds really excellent. I love the quotes you picked out.

  10. This sounds very interesting. I love fairy tales and love the idea of a modern day Red Riding Hood discovering some answers.

  11. This book sounds great, and for different reasons I think my daughter and I would both really like it. I liked the excerpts that you picked out and loved the picture with the baby wolf. Great review! Going to do some more digging on this book now. Thanks!

  12. I've read Gillian Cross before! Have you read Tightrope? It's another pretty good one! I remember the main character was such a tough, admirable, kick-ass heroine!


  13. This is on my list! I got to the end of your post and wondered how long it could take me to order it from the library, if they have it! I love wolves, I always have, so I try to read most books with them.....and LIttle Red Riding Hood - well, you know how much I like that fairy tale (The Company of Wolves, etc).....thanks for this excellent review!

  14. This sounds like a book I'd love to read! Thanks for the lovely review, Nymeth! *Looking at my long wishlist and shudder* LOL.

  15. I do like the sound of this one! Hmmm... I don't dare to look at my wish list but I do know what I have listed there in my mental list. Arrrgh... Ana... you're bad for me. LOL!

  16. This sounds very interesting - thanks!

  17. Great quote about REAL life... It's easier to sometimes ignore things by thinking that they're not part of our real world, isn't it...

  18. Well, you've definitely peaked my interest. I belive this one is now added to my "must look for" list....yep, just finished writing it!


  19. Ooh! It does sound like a smart story. Great pics by the way.

  20. Belle, I hope you enjoy it! I might have overlooked it too if not for the fact that I'm trying to read through the Carnegie list.

    Alexa: It is excellent!

    Peaceful Reader: I thought that the way she incorporated the fairy tale into the story was so original!

    Zibilee: I couldn't resist including some wolves :D

    Sharry: I haven't, but I definitely want to read more of her books now! Hooray for kick-ass heroines :D

    Susan: yay, I'm so glad the library has it! I can't wait to hear your thoughts. I owe you an e-mail, btw, and an apology for being so slow when it comes to our project!

    Melody: never stops growing, does it?

    Alice: Sorry! :P

    Elizabeth, I hope you enjoy it if you decide to pick it up :)

    Joanna: It really is. I loved that quote to bits.

    GMR: yay! My work here is done :D

    Ladytink: Aren't the wolves cute? Poor wolves, they get such a bad rap.


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.