CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 7 . . . . November 26, 2004
This is a first novel, originally published in 1997 by Moulin Publishing in Ontario, by Melanie Jane Banner who lives in Surrey, England. Black and white illustrations are by Kveta, a freelancer working out of a studio in Markham, Ontario.
The novel begins in a suburb of contemporary London at Christmas. Twelve-year-old Zan, short for Alexander, finds a sack of newborn pups in an alley. He leaves the pups on the doorstep of the Dog's Home, a shelter for abandoned dogs but decides to keep one for himself. Knowing that his parents have strictly forbidden him to have a dog, he hides the dog, whom he calls Smoke, in his bedroom. When his parents finally discover the animal six months later and call the dog shelter to pick up the animal, Zan runs away with Smoke.
Part Two of the novel describes Zan's life among the homeless on the streets of London. After being mugged, he is befriended by a boy named "Five" who takes him to live in The Archway, a makeshift home of tattered cardboard boxes and mattresses in a tunnel. There, he meets a group of homeless teenagers and Grandpop, an ailing World War ll veteran. They coach him on life on the streets including how to find the ideal box in which to live.
When Smoke turns on Zan during a fight with another dog, Zan finally realizes that Smoke is a wild creature driven only by instinct. With the help of a wildlife biologist, he is able to release Smoke into a nearby wild animal sanctuary.
Endorsed by the Born Free Foundation, a charity working to keep wildlife in the wild, the message of the novel appears to be that animals are not meant to live in human society. Smoke is discovered to be a Canadian timber wolf. While it is briefly speculated that Smoke's litter originated from an illegal exotic pet dealer, the problems of private ownership of wolves or wolf hybrids is not fully explored.
The fact that Zan successfully hides the wolf pup from his parents for over six months without discovery is highly improbable. Wolves cannot be trained or housebroken, and yet Zan leaves his bedroom window open for Smoke to come and go as he pleases. Zan's mother seems to detect a "faint hint of a strange animal smell" and, upon inspecting his room, thinks that it "did not look quite as spotless as she would have liked," but she does not suspect the wolf. This is unlikely since wolves are known to scent mark their territory and are destructive if left alone. His father, a night watchman who sleeps during the day, is never disturbed by animal sounds. Solitary wolves can become stressed and neurotic, and yet Smoke seems to be a "strangely quiet creature."
The subtitle "A Wolf's Story" is misleading as one would think the story would be told from the wolf's point of view with all the implication of understanding this implies. However the reader gets very little insight into wolf behaviour. Readers who are not familiar with British colloquialisms may find some difficulty with the language. A better choice for children who are looking for stories about wolves would be Jean Craighead George's Julie of the Wolves or Jack London's The Call of the Wild.
Jane Bridle is a Youth Services Librarian at Winnipeg Public Library in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.