Gone Wolf begins in 2111 with Inmate Eleven, a 12-year-old girl being kept in a tiny room. Her only company is her dog, Ira, who has been “going wolf” more often—pacing, narrowing his eyes and imagining he is free. Inmate Eleven is a Blue, which refers to her blue skin and hair. As a genetic match for the president’s son, she is designated to serve as his companion in a mysterious and sinister system. And as Inmate Eleven gathers more information about the world outside her room, she begins to feel the calling to go wolf too.
The narrative switches to Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2022, where Imogen—also 12 years old—is often told she feels too much. She used to rely on her brothers to help settle her worries, but now the pandemic has isolated her from everyone other than her mother and therapist. When Imogen connects with a Black college student in the Big Sister program through a mutual love for stories, she begins to open up and heal the sadness—the blueness—in her own heart.
Gone Wolf is divided almost evenly between the future and present timelines. Its first half effectively makes the reader feel as trapped as Inmate Eleven. Each chapter is followed by disturbing “flash cards” that the ruling Clones use to brainwash the society of 2111 into complacency. In parallel, the second half set in the present day uses excerpts from Imogen’s Black History for Kids textbook, which illuminate the resilience of Black Americans without shying away from the atrocities of slavery and racism. Both imagined texts demonstrate the power of choosing which narrative to tell.
Unlike her previous two young adult novels in verse—Me (Moth) and We Are All So Good at Smiling—National Book Award finalist Amber McBride has written her middle grade debut in prose. Her syntax shines with beautiful symbolism, such as, “I know that minds can’t be hurricanes but that is what it feels like.” “But that’s what it feels like” is repeated like a mantra throughout the book—yet another echo of verse. Both of Gone Wolf’s protagonists write poetry, which further allows McBride to slip some of her magic in.
Imogen’s therapist puts it best: “History and the truth are sometimes hard.” Gone Wolf examines the ways in which both the COVID-19 pandemic and slavery’s ongoing legacy impact Black youth while also celebrating storytelling’s ability to heal and bring us together. There is nothing quite like it.