I first fell in love with Laura Ruby’s words with her debut and Printz Award winner, Bone Gap, an eerie, beautifully written ode to the myth of Hades and Persephone with her own fantastic twist. I was stunned by how versatile she is as a writer when I read her middle-grade debut, York: The Shadow Cipher and knew instantly that she was a must-read author for me for life. I knew I would love Thirteen Doors, Wolves Behind Them All but I didn’t know what else to expect as her work combines the best of storytelling, the unfolding of characters and worlds with no idea where they lead and no choice but to follow them. It comes as absolutely no surprise that the book is already long-listed for a National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. It is a stunning, heartbreaking, glorious work of fiction that showcases Laura Ruby’s astounding talent. She makes her characters so real that I wasn’t surprised to learn that she did base her protagonist on her mother in law. She has such a way of describing and delving into a character’s nature that it’s almost as if by the end of the novel, I’ve been reading about friends and relatives all along.
Thirteen Wolves takes place in the 1940s Chicago, a bleak time where in an orphanage, a young girl named Frankie lives with her brother and sister after their mother died and father surrendered them to the nuns. An unnamed ghost watches over her and narrates her life while also providing glimpses of the girl the ghost once was twenty-five years earlier.
The book is troubling at times but also hopeful. Frankie’s wily and strong personality won’t be beat down by the indifference or mistreatment of the nuns. When her father takes her older brother and his new wife and her children to Denver, leaving Frankie and her sister at the orphanage, your heart breaks for her. It makes the moments of kindness or love that come for her throughout the book more bright. And the mystery of the young ghost is and why she’s stuck eternally in Chicago pushes readers to flip the pages quickly so that you could finish the almost 400 page book in a few nights.
The fact that each girl, though very different, and the girls in the orphanage have to contend with so much and manage to hold onto something (whether it be their personality or love or dreams) is so inspiring to read. The conclusion feels like the exhalation of a long-held breath when it happens.
It might not be the fluffiest book I’ve ever read, but it may be one of the most memorable and I can’t wait for others to meet Frankie and her spectral guardian. I also cannot wait to read more of Laura Ruby’s incredible work, each one wholly unique and wonderful, I know it’s going to be just as marvelous as her previous books.