Thursday 9 September 2021

We Were Wolves

We Were Wolves by Jason Cockcroft (Anderson Press) HB RRP $26.99 ISBN 9781839130571

Reviewed by Nikki M Heath

A 14-year-old lives in some woods with his father, in a caravan lacking modern conveniences but surrounded by ancient animal spirits which lurk beneath the earth. As the father’s criminal activities begin to unravel, and the boy meets a girl from the other side of the tracks, he is left struggling to balance his own needs - and what is right - against his unwavering commitment to his dad.

I’d never thought of the smell of hot glass before reading the first page of this book, where it contributes strikingly to building a vivid sense of the caravan in the woods the protagonist inhabits with his father. The book is saturated in description, taking a literary style that strong readers and keen writers will appreciate.

That style also results in a very slow-moving plot, with nothing much happening until around Chapter 18. While it is far from boring, with tension building slowly and steadily throughout, less committed readers may find it difficult to stick with. Persistence is its own reward in this case, as the full picture only emerges in the final pages. Even then, though, there are loose ends which remain unresolved.

A contemplative and philosophical tale addressing themes of resilience, self-worth, bravery and selflessness, certain aspects of the plot may warrant caution for some readers. There is gun and gang violence, mental health challenges in the aftermath of war, and a teenage boy acting in some respects as carer to his enigmatic father. On the other hand, there are repeated references to William Blake, an irresistible invitation to explore a classic body of work for consideration in the context of this story.

This is a beautifully produced book, and moody, monochrome illustrations throughout add to the mysterious, oppressive atmosphere. The renderings of the spirit animals of the forest are particularly moving (read creepy, but in a good way), with their hollow eyes and dripping sense of decay. 

This is a mature read for stronger readers of at least 13 years of age.  It will particularly appeal to those who revel in a mystery and embrace having something to think about long after they get to the end.

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