The Wolf’s Curse by Jessica Vitalis (ARC Review)


Goodreads: The Wolf’s Curse
Series: None
Source: ARC for Review
Publication Date: September 21, 2021

Official Summary

Twelve-year-old Gauge’s life has been cursed since the day he witnessed a Great White Wolf steal his grandpapá’s soul, preventing it from reaching the Sea-in-the-Sky and sailing into eternity. When the superstitious residents of Bouge-by-the-Sea accuse the boy of crying wolf, he joins forces with another orphan to prove his innocence. They navigate their shared grief in a journey that ultimately reveals life-changing truths about the wolf––and death. 

Star Divider


The Wolf’s Curse is a completely unique book, focused on grief but told with the feeling of a folk tale or fairy tale, softening some of the darkness. Readers will mourn with protagonist Gauge after the death of his grandfather while hoping he will find his way through the sadness — and through the cruelty of the villagers who believe Gauge is evil — and emerge stronger and ready to face on the world, even if his grandfather is no longer in it.

The treatment of death and grieving in The Wolf’s Curse is nuanced. Author Jessica Vitalis touches on the different ways people might react to death, the different ways they might grieve, and the different things they might believe happens to the soul. The book also engages with ritual, as Gauge and begins to notice that not all rituals are preformed for all people who die in the village and that different materials are used for their burial boats and must work through questions of whether the rituals are “real” and why they “matter.” It’s a complex journey of observation, questioning, and discovery, and I think it could help many young readers work through dealing with death or understanding what someone else who is grieving might be doing through.

The one thing that gives me pause is that the book is straightforward that what the villagers believe happens to the soul after death is not actually what happens to it. Souls still end up in a nice place, and there’s some discussion of the fact that what one calls the afterlife might not be the important part if it’s enjoyable place either way, but . . . I don’t know if this would be a sticking point for a young reader. The Wolf’s Curse is a good story on its own, but as it is so strongly an exploration of grief it also seems like the kind of book an adult would hand a child who is dealing with a recent death, and I question how the point of “What the characters believe about the afterlife is totally incorrect” would go over.

The plot, I think, is less complex than the themes explored, but it’s well-paced. Gauge travels a lot of the town and gets into and out of a few scrapes, and I believe the target audience will be charmed by him and the new friends he makes along the way. The slight simplicity of the plot also help the story feel more like an old folk tale we’re all comfortably familiar with, something that it is known and somehow true. The book could have felt preachy; instead, it feels as timeless as the Wolf that narrates it.

If you’re looking for something thoughtful and deep and different. The Wolf’s Curse is an excellent middle grade story that is sure to continue to win over reader after reader.

4 stars