Thursday, March 10, 2022

We Are Wolves

Nannestad, Kristina. We Are Wolves
March 8th 2022 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Near the end of World War II, the Wolf family in East Prussia is devastated that their father has to report to the front as a soldier for the German army. When news comes at Christmas that he is missing in action, they can hardly believe it. As things worsen in their area, there is some talk of preparing to flee, but the mother doesn't make plan. Mia is an infant, Otto is about 8, and Liesl is 11. When soldiers knock on their door and tell them they must leave, things are thrown into suitcases and the family joins the exodous out of town. The mother makes Liesl promise to keep her brother and sister safe, and to remember their true identities, no matter what. This is helpful when they are separated early on from their mother, and they follow their grandfather's advice to head to Vistula Lagoon and try to get a ship to safety in Denmark. At first, the children manage to fall in with some Russian soldiers, some of whom seem actually nice. They explain that the Germans had good lives, while Russians lived lives of deprivation. Liesl is fine with being helped by the enemy until one of the leaders wants to take Mia back to his own wife, who lost a child. The children run away, and take up with some other children. One of these children, Charlotte, is a spoiled child who doesn't grasp the seriousness of their situation, and at one point trades their cow for a new dress! Making their way across the countryside, the children face terrible cold and hunger, and make do with the few resources they have. The meet with more kindness than one would imagine, and eventually come to the home of Lithuanians Magdalena and Dovydas, when Mia is very starved and sick. The couple has had their share of losses during the way, and are happy to help out the children and have them become family. For their own safety, the children are given Lithuanian names and told to never speak German. While Liesl is glad to be warm, safe, and fed, she is worried that Mia in particular will forget her past. As the war winds down, will the children receive any word about their family?
Strengths: It's always interesting to see glimpses of middle class German life before the war; not everyone supported Hitler. This didn't linger on the time before the war, and got straight to the harrowing experiences of leaving home and trying to get out of East Prussia. The details of joining up with Russians and other children, of asking for help, and of having so few resources will appeal to readers who have an interest in World War II survival stories. I appreciated the inclusion of Lithuania-- there are still a lot of tales involving the Baltic States that could be told. The horrible experiences were balanced by the kindness of strangers, and the book ends as happily as this sort of story can. 
Weaknesses: The ending seemed a bit improbable, but I'm sure that there are many true stories where people were able to reconnect despite overwhelming odds as well. 
What I really think: Even though our 8th grade will probably drop their Holocaust unit, there is still an interest in stories like Harbour's Flight and the work of Marsha Skrypuch, so I will buy this book and turn a critical eye to some of my older, less appealing WWII books to be weeded. 

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