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Asking ‘What If?’ and Zooming Round on Dirt Bikes: The Story Behind Ryan Graudin’s Enthralling YA Novel ‘Wolf by Wolf’

November 13, 2015

Ryan Graudin‘As a writer, I try to examine all facets of life through a single question: What if? This question tends to lead to more questions, which lead to more questions …’ – Ryan Graudin

Ryan Graudin’s second YA novel, Wolf by Wolf, has just been released to enormous acclaim. It’s garnering wonderful endorsements from fellow authors, including Australian Amie Kaufman: ‘Wolf by Wolf completely immerses the reader in a story they’ll never forget. Filled to the brim with tension and intrigue, nonstop action, and a vivid cast of characters, you’ll feel every bump in the road they ride. I simply couldn’t stop reading – and wherever Ryan Graudin rides next, I’ll follow.’

And from industry publications like Publisher’s Weekly: ‘Graudin crafts another fast-paced, enthralling tale of sacrifice and dogged determination as she fuses alternate history and spy-thriller suspense. A provocative rumination on self-preservation, the greater good, and the boundaries that keep heroes from becoming as cruel as those they fight.’

Read Better Reading’s review here.

The novel centres on an intriguing premise: what if Germany had won World War II?  While Graudin is not the first author to have asked this question, she has spun a particularly vivid, intriguing and compelling story out of the scenario, centring on an 18-year-old resistance fighter on a mission to kill Hitler.

Why write a story set in this alternate world? And where did some of the imagined elements of that world spring from?

Graudin has long been fascinated by World War II history and sees her job as a writer to ask the ‘What if’ questions. She told Entertainment Weekly that she researched this book through ‘Loads of reading, and reading, and re-reading. One of my staple books was The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer. At 1249 pages, it’s incredibly comprehensive and always harbours the possibility of breaking my little toe if I drop it.’ She also researched and personally trialled various World War II weapons.

Wolf by Wolf coverGraudin was very much aware of the sensitivity of her topic: ‘These are real atrocities that happened to real people, some of whom are still alive today. Though Wolf by Wolf is set in an alternate world, I still strove to approach the Holocaust with the same gravity and respect as if I was writing straight historical fiction.’

She found that the setting of the book affected her deeply: ‘Writing a book means you spend hundreds upon hundreds of hours dwelling in its world. At the outset, I wasn’t quite prepared for the emotional toll creating a narrative based on Hitler’s New Order would take on me. Yael’s backstory—especially the scenes that take place inside the camp—was really hard to pen. There was a weight to these passages, a responsibility to get them right.’

Wolf by Wolf also has some science fiction elements.

In the story, resistance fighter Yael was experimented on during her time at Auschwitz, and has the unique ability to change her appearance at will. It is this ability which allows her to impersonate Adele Wolfe, Germany’s most famous female motorcycle rider, in an attempt to get close to the Fuhrer.

In an author note at the end of the book, Graudin explains: ‘The biggest departure from reality is Yael’s skinshifting. One might wonder why I chose to introduce such a fantastic element to such a sobering backdrop…This book, at its heart, is about identity. Not only in how we see ourselves, but about how we see others. What makes people who they are? The colour of their skin? The blood in their veins? The uniforms they wear? I gave Yael the ability to skinshift to address these questions…to push readers out of their own comfort ones and into Yael’s many skins and, by doing so, to impart a deeper understanding of what humanity is capable of.’

Another particularly captivating element of the book is the vivid descriptions of Yael and her competitors racing in the Axis Tour; an epic long distance motorcycle race from Berlin to Tokyo. Graudin told Entertainment Weekly:

Wolf by Wolf’s cross-continental motorcycle race was inspired by The Long Way Round mini-series featuring Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman as they tackle a long-distance motorcycle trip from London to New York. Their journey is incredible. The landscapes they pass and the challenges they encounter are both so varied. My mind was spinning with potential plot points after I finished watching!…

‘To get a feel for the all of the different terrains of a cross-continental motorcycle race, I went to a dirt-biking course and zoomed around a bit. (I ended up with so many bruises!)’

Ultimately, she says, ‘it’s my hope that Yael’s story will not only remind readers that all people are created equal but also challenge people to educate themselves on the history behind the fiction and to use this knowledge to examine our present world.

‘The world within [the book] could have been our own. For a time and in a place it was, and we should do our best not to forget that.’

For more:

Read Better Reading’s review of Wolf by Wolf

Try an extract on the publisher’s website

Buy the book

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