Wolves, Boys & Other Things That Might Kill Me, by Kristen Chandler, is blowing up right now, as well it should. The book details the adventures of K.J. Carson, a sixteen year-old girl living with her widower father in West End, a tiny town (pop. 948) on the edge of Yellowstone National Park. No, this is not a Twilight knock-off, nor are there any werewolves to be found. For those of you that don’t know, in the last decade or two, there has been a referendum under the Endangered Species Act to reintroduce wolves across the country (including a heavy population in Yellowstone), from where they had been hunted to extinction in the early 1900s (see soon to be released Disney film, Alpha and Omega). This issue is heavily divisive in West End, pitting animal rights activists anxious to preserve the wolf population against irate ranchers losing their cattle and dogs.
K.J. finds herself caught up in the fracas when she is commissioned to write a weekly column for the school paper with cute new kid Virgil, focused on the wolf issue. As tensions run high, K.J.’s articles turn into a tinderbox, and the issue suddenly becomes explosive as retribution and anger on both sides runs high. As things reach a fever pitch and people start getting hurt, K.J. and her friends try to find a solution to keep both camps happy. Sprinkled with an awkwardly sweet romance with Virgil and her terse relationship with her father, the plot speed mirrors K.J.’s desperate effort to stay ahead of the impending blowup.
This story is so interesting because not only is it well-written, it has national importance right now. The wolf reintroduction program is really going on, and is just as highly controversial as Chandler paints it. Though K.J. can at times be a little obtuse, she is honestly trying to find her way through the increasingly less and less rational debate. And the manner in which she does it is great – she educates herself: books, interviews, wolf-watching, internet research. Right or wrong, K.J. never strikes out blind, a valuable trait in a fight that is more about fear and anger than facts. Sprinkled with wolf information and quotes, it is educational as well as engaging, and balances both sides of the debate equally. This book offers an on-the-ground look into a real current issue to which there may be no right answer.
But while the wolf debate may have no clear solution to satisfy both camps, the book is just as much about K.J.’s struggle to define herself when everything in her life is changing, and that, at the end of the day, is what drives this book.