Review of ‘Two Wolves’
Title: Two Wolves
Author: Tristan Bancks
Publisher: Penguin Random House Australia
Age Range: Upper Primary/Lower Secondary – Young Adult (mature themes, check suitability for younger readers)
Awards: Winner, KOALA & YABBA Children’s Choice Awards; Children’s Book Council of Australia Honour Book; Shortlisted, Prime Minister’s Literature Awards
Themes: family, fathers, ethics, morals, nature, bush, survival, fear, sense of self, self-esteem, resilience, strength of character, nature v nurture, coming of age, crime, mystery.
A Cherokee Indian grandfather tells his grandson that there is a battle raging inside him, inside all of us. A terrible battle between two wolves.
One wolf is bad – pride, jealousy, greed. The other wolf is good – kindness, hope, truth.
The child asks, ‘Who will win?’
The grandfather answers simply, ‘The one you feed.’
I had a tall pile of YA books to read over the summer holidays and ‘Two Wolves’ was at the top. After reading the above blurb of Bancks’ new crime-mystery novel, I kept moving it down the pile as I knew I was going to need the headspace and the child free space to read and digest it. Tristan Bancks is a powerful writer and I have particularly enjoyed his ‘Mac Slater’ series which are fast paced and uber-cool novels for upper primary to middle secondary readers. Turning his talent to crime writing for young people, I knew we would have an edge of seat, gripping, tense novel. I was not wrong, except to also add in some tears.
The book trailer will have young readers clamouring for ‘Two Wolves’
Main character Ben Silver is a little on the chubby side and is acutely aware of his family’s social situation. He loves creating stop motion cop movies on his old camera and dreaming of being a detective. He is such an authentic character – a little bit lonely, awkward at school, hopeful about his future. Ben is straddling that fine line between childhood and adolescence; innocence and knowledge. Ben wants to believe everything good about people, particularly his parents, yet the evidence tells him something different. His struggle between hope and awareness drives the tension of the narrative.
One afternoon, police officers show up at Ben Silver’s front door. Minutes after they leave, his parents arrive home. Ben and his little sister Olive are bundled into the car and told they’re going on a holiday. But are they? It doesn’t take long for Ben to realise that his parents are in trouble. Big trouble.
The parents in ‘Two Wolves’ are flawed in so many ways and as a reader you go from anger at their reckless behavior to tear filled eyes because, surely, surely they want the best for their children. Don’t they?
Tristan has a background in acting and filmmaking and this is immediately evident in ‘Two Wolves’ as the reader is thrown straight into the action; there is very little ‘setting up of the story’. The short, sharp sentences increase the sense of dread and urgency and the plot turns, then stops, then backtracks, then turns again – keeping readers on their toes and meaning there is little chance this book will be put down until the very last page has been turned.
It is clear that Tristan has oh so carefully considered each and every word in this novel – seemingly simple writing is often the hardest to get just right and ‘Two Wolves’ took him four years to write.
‘Two Wolves’ will challenge, extend and take readers right out of their comfort zone, asking them to consider some big questions;
Are we destined to become like our parents/grandparents?
Is it okay to lie to protect your family?
Does adversity really breed strength?
Does money buy happiness? (but not asked in the usual preach at the reader way – because we all know that in fact money can make things easier!)
There are twenty pages of excellent teaching notes on the Penguin Random House Australia website here.
I have two predictions for ‘Two Wolves’ – firstly that this will become a set novel in many secondary English and Media classrooms. Its sense of place, the action, the moral issues, the connections with other literature, its filmic potential – the list goes on. My second prediction is that this will appear on a number of literary shortlists around the place in 2015.