Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George


I know it’s another outdated book–written in 1972–but I confess that Julie of the Wolves, like Island of the Blue Dolphins, is a book I return to again and again, and for much the same reasons: it’s an interesting glimpse for an outsider into a way of life that’s precarious (though unlike the Nicoleño Indians, there are Inuit alive today, and some are struggling to preserve their heritage) but perhaps more importantly, it’s the story of a tough competent determined girl who takes her fate into her own hands. That carries an important message to kids of all genders: girls can do that!

Julie of the Wolves begins in the middle: Julie (or rather Miyax) is lost on the tundra and attempting to figure out how to survive long enough to get to where she wants to be. Her father is presumed dead, lost at sea while hunting in his kayak. Julie left her stepmother as soon as she was of marriageable age (13) to live with the family of her father’s friend and marry his son. This doesn’t work out–Daniel isn’t very bright or kind and attempts to force himself on Julie after being teased by other kids in Barrow–and Julie runs away, intending to reach San Francisco, where her pen pal Amy lives. She befriends a wolf pack on the tundra, which permits her to survive long enough to reach, not San Francisco, but her father and a realization that the life she had known cannot survive the onslaught of modern/Caucasian society. This first book does end on a somewhat dispiriting note: the Inuit way of life cannot survive the influx of outside culture. Thankfully, while the second and third books aren’t quite as good from a literary standpoint, they do at least address how the Inuit might retain their own culture while adapting to the pressures of the outside world and indeed adapting that alien culture to their own needs at the top of the world.

I feel like something of an odd duck because I prefer Julie of the Wolves to Jean Craighead George’s more popular book, My Side of the Mountain. Maybe it’s because I’m the same gender as the protagonist of the former1…but something about My Side of the Mountain never quite rang true, even when I was a kid. As an adult, I have to wonder why none of the adults Sam encountered along the way–and he was pretty clear about what he was doing–either ‘captured’ him to physically ship him home or simply insisted on notifying his parents where he was headed2. I can’t believe that the world was so very different fifty years ago that Sam’s parents wouldn’t have been worried sick about him! even if they did know where he was going. As a child (so far as I recall), it simply made more sense to me that a girl3 who’d grown up in the region in question would have the wherewithal to traipse miles through the wilderness by herself while a kid who’d grown up in the middle of New York City would have had difficulty managing to survive in the wilds as Sam did.

1though I certainly like(d) plenty of books about boys, it’s possible I just identify with Julie.
2Yes, I know he told his father where he was going…and his father just said “Sure”?
3leaving the race of the kids in question out of the equation, of course! A First Nations girl who’d grown up in the middle of Vancouver would presumably be in the same pickle as Sam.

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