by Melvin Burgess. (Morrow, 1990. ISBN 0688117449. Order Info.) Novel. 128 pages. Grades 4-8.
What if there were still wolves in England and only a few people knew it? What if one of those people was an obsessive, half-mad, extremely able hunter who was determined to have the honor of killing the last wolf in England? We are with the last wolf pups as they are born short minutes before the slaughter begins. The female survives, wounded by The Hunter, only long enough to teach her sole surviving pup a few skills before she too is killed by the man. The pup, Greycub, is reared by Ben and his family and, being a social animal, waits in vain for the sound or scent of a remaining wolf. This is not to be for he is the last wolf in England. Regretfully leaving his human friends, he roams for years searching for sign of his species. In a bizarre but very fitting climax to the story, Greycub becomes the hunter and The Hunter knows, too late, the feeling of the prey.
This is a raw and brutal book and, to be sure, a cautionary tale about extinction. However, the focus is on obsession verging on madness. Ben, the boy who rears Greycub, becomes an innocent betrayer of the wolves for it is he who first alerts The Hunter to the presence of the wolf pack. The book reads like non-fiction with an almost detached manner but the brutality is so compelling that detachment on the part of the reader is nearly impossible. In fact, the feelings of the reader would make for a fascinating discussion. At which point did they become engaged? Did they ever feel any sympathy for The Hunter? How did the author do that? Also, there is some anthropomorphism present. Could Burgess have done the book without it?
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