28 April 2014

Julie of the Wolves: 1973 Newbery Medal

The beginning of March 2014 I started a new undertaking: reading every single Newbery Medal Winner book.  A number of them I have read in the past, but I am reading them with fresh eyes,and reviewing them for others. I am not reading them in order, as some will require some effort on my part to find them all.  Want to keep track of which books I read?  Check them out at Confessions of a Wannabe Reader!
Cover of the book - used for identification purposes only under the fair use clause

Julie Edwards Miyak Kapugen : Caught Between Worlds

"Change your way when fear seizes.... for it usually means you re doing something wrong."

Miyax, also known by her American name Julie Edwards, is an Eskimo native who has known the ways of her father and her ancestors for most of her life.  When her father Kapugen disappears and she is married in the traditional way at age thirteen, she accepts her new life until it becomes a danger to her.  She runs away, intending to go to her American friend Amy in San Francisco.  However, she becomes lost on the Alaskan tundra with no food or way to guide her.  Her salvation comes in the form of a pack of wolves, led by a majestic male Miyax names Amaroq, or "father."  With the help of the wolves and the ways her father taught her, Miyax learns to survive, though she knows she must not remain in the wilderness.  She must choose between the old ways of her ancestors, and the new ways of the white foreigners.

Julie of the Wolves was written by Jean Craighead George and was one of the first survival stories I had ever encountered.  I remember having this read to my class when I was in fifth grade.  I had fallen in love with the book and bought a copy of it in college when I was building up a library of books.  Like Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, this book left a mark in my mind as one of the best stories of survival I read as a child.  I enjoyed rereading it again recently after having put it aside for almost a decade.

The wolves play a great role in this book, as they help Julie / Miyax survive once she learns to communicate with them.  Amaroq is majestic, and it is understood that he could kill Miyax easily, but sees her as a helpless pup.  Once he is sure she is strong, he shows her ways to survive on the tundra, just as her father once did before he disappeared.  While seized briefly by fear, Miyax becomes one with the wolves and part of their pack, looking out for the younger pups and learning their ways.

The story struck a chord with me because not only is it a survival story, but it is a story about a girl who is caught in a crisis of identity.  Is she Julie Edwards the American Eskimo, or Miyax of the old ways?  She relies on the stories of her father and ancestors to help her survive, but also longs for the ways of the gussaks, or whites, like her friend and pen pal, Amy.  She wants to be true to her ancestry, but also knows that the old ways are dying out as the ways of convenience take hold among her people.

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