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Book Review: The Children and the Wolves by Adam Rapp

When Bounce convinces her friends Wiggins and Orange to help her kidnap a little girl, they don’t question her motives.  Such is the kind of hold Bounce has on the two boys.  The four-year-old they hold hostage in Orange’s basement answers to the nickname “the Frog” and seems okay with being chained to the furniture.  She spends her days playing a video game about wolves (a game which mirrors her actual existence a little too well).  As things around the teens and the Frog escalate, guilt and tensions run high, and every decision the teens make will have consequences.

This is a dark, dark book.  It’s a book that’s going to leave many readers feeling wholly unsettled.  Rapp doesn’t shy away from the darkest, most vile aspects of humanity, but he does so in a way that is realistic, compelling, and unforgettable.  Not for the faint of heart, this book will stay with readers for a long time after they finish.

Although the novel is slim in volume, it’s jam-packed with issues.  Rapp tackles class, privilege, intelligence, gender, sexual orientation, and drug addiction without even slowing down.  His absolutely stunning prose makes this a read that is both savage and gorgeous.  He demands a great deal from his readers, but it never feels pretentious or overwrought.  This book pushes the limits in so many ways.

Through the characters of Wiggins, Orange, Bounce and the Frog, Rapp has created real, powerful voices.  These characters are extremely well-developed in a very small amount of space and time.  He manages to confront the reader with the realities of what it means to be marginalized and largely forgotten by society, and he isn’t shying away from how ugly that reality is.

This is a hard one to read, but readers won’t be able to look away–or put it down.  The slightly ambiguous ending will keep readers guessing, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be thinking about this one long after you’ve finished it.  One of my favorite reads of 2012.

The Children and the Wolves by Adam Rapp. Candlewick: 2012. Library copy.  Read for 2012 Cybils Round 1 Panel.

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