Title: We Were Wolves
Author: Jason Cockcroft
Publisher: Walker Books/Andersen Press
Published: 2nd June 2021
Synopsis: An intense, darkly spellbinding story of a boy awaiting his father’s return from prison as an ancient woodland awakes
Boy lives in a caravan on his own in the woods. His dad, John, is in prison and promises to get out soon. All the boy needs to do is survive alone for a little while longer. But dark forces are circling – like the dangerous man in the Range Rover, who is looking for his stolen money. And then there are the ancient forces that have lain asleep in the woods for an age…
- A darkly intense illustrated novel about survival, the natural world and the complex bond between father and son
- Beautifully presented in hardback with art by the author
- Jason Cockroft has been nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal and won the inaugural Blue Peter Book Award
Boy and his father, John, are alone. They live in a caravan, and Boy occasionally sees his Mam. But these days he lives on his own, waiting for his dad to get out of prison. Yet there are strange men in Range Rovers, people like Sophie prying into his life and slowly becoming his friend, and a dog, Mol. Boy must learn to avoid questions being asked, and is torn between his mother and his father and wanting to help them both. The story is lavishly illustrated by Jason as well and evokes a sense of mysticism – we don’t always know what is really going on, and at times, it feels as though we dip in and out of the past and present, as at times I felt John was there but at times, he was spoken about as though he was in prison. As we see this solely through Boy’s eyes and his understanding of the events that lead to tragedy within the story. Starting with a simple paragraph on the very first page that tells us what is to come – the story of how Boy killed his father – and feels as though it might in some instances be Boy’s imagination conjuring interactions with his father up as he awaits his release from prison, as he awaits the outcome of the Job his father is due to do – but what it is remains to be seen as you peel back the layers of the novel, and begin to understand what has driven John to live as he does, and what has driven Boy to live as he does rather than live safely with his mother, attending school – yet he does not wholly abandon his mother – in fact, I felt he was torn between the two, and didn’t always know where he truly fitted in or where he should be.
It is a testament to the connection between nature and solitude, and the human spirit’s capacity to endure some of the harshest experiences and what it means when we have a friend come into our lives who does all they can to support us without question. It is a testament to what we can endure, and what we might imagine when trying to make sense of the world around us.
It is the kind of book that lets you know what to expect, but the lead up to this is slow, meditative and contemplative, as though lulling us into a false sense of security, where we don’t think the awful events are going to happen, even though at times there is also a sense of fear and uncertainty that comes through the narrative. As it is Boy telling the story, we are only told a few things – we are told what Boy thinks we need to know. It is told in first person, and Jason Cockcroft has cleverly found a way to tell the entire story without telling us the main character’s name – something I haven’t seen often, but that I know has been done before, and In think it takes talent and hard work to do so – it is something that I myself would find challenging to do, and that at times, may not always work. In this instance, I think it has worked out really well.
This is one of those books that is unexpected, and filled with emotion exploring the bond between father and son, and by extension, mother and son and friends, and ideas around mental health and what it means to have everything ripped away from you and not know what to do next. It doesn’t shy away from the idea of consequences though, and alludes to the idea that whatever you do, you can’t make everything better for everyone.