February 16, 2012

Timber Wolf

by Caroline Pignat
Red Deer Press
206 pp.
Ages 11-14

Waking in the snow, numbed by pain and cold, the young narrator of Timber Wolf comes to the violent realization that he knows neither his name, what has happened nor where he's from.
"Homeless.  Nameless.  Hopeless.  Yet, try as I might, nothing comes to mind but the fat flakes drifting down from the endless winter black." (pg. 3)
Although his recollections return slowly and intermittently, it is the first, that of his father, Da, teaching him to carve wood with a knife, that has him hopeful of family searching for him.  While he awaits his rescue, he does his best to find shelter and food.  Two key events occur which set the stage for the young man's journey back to himself.  First, he has a frightening but companionable encounter with a wolf who continues to help him throughout his ordeal.  Second, when the young man retrieves a snared rabbit, which he shares with the wolf, he meets a young Anishnaabeg, Mahingan, who saves his life.

Under the care and guidance of Mahingan's Grandfather Wawatie, the young man regains his health and strength, and learns some of the Anishnaabeg ways.  But, Mahingan's relentless anger compels him to abandon the young man when they come across a logging camp shanty.  The memories unleashed by the shanty bring the young man closer to his story but they also reveal that he is responsible for harming others.  As he continues to search for his life, he encounters his companion wolf, a bear and a frightening trapper with his own memory issues.

While the narrator will not determine his own name until page 171, his identity has been introduced in the first two books by Caroline Pignat: Greener Grass (Red Deer Press, 2008) and Wild Geese (Red Deer Press, 2010).  In Greener Grass, the 2009 winner of the Governor General's Literary Award for Children's Text, we are introduced to Kit Byrne's family (Mam, Da, brother Jack, little sister Annie) who have endured the hardships of farming in 1800's Ireland.  With the famine and subsequent starvation and evictions, Kit and most of her family, as well as her friend Mick, escape to Canada, hopeful of a better life.  This background information is not necessary to appreciate the story of Timber Wolf, which capably works as a stand-alone text, but the connections revealed in the books are important.  Readers who have not enjoyed Greener Grass and Wild Geese are encouraged to partake in these fine reads, even after reading Timber Wolf.

In Timber Wolf, Caroline Pignat's emphasis on the characters within an accurate, historical context draws the readers in, effectively bringing fear, despair, and hope to the foreground. The challenges of survival without solid memories that could provide a foundation for endurance and success are overwhelming and powerfully told in Caroline Pignat's rich writing.  Her imagery ("They pull his full form up onto the log where he flops like a load of wet laundry"; pg. 77) and perspicacity (Grandfather Wawatie's assertion that "even the tiniest hole left too long will eventually destroy the whole boat"; pg. 192) provide the beauty for this adventure story.  Although Caroline Pignat, in the interview notes at the conclusion of the book, does not confirm whether there will be additional books related to the Byrnes, I will look forward to another book to enlighten me historically and emotionally, as all three of these books have.

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