The Children and the Wolves (by Adam Rapp)

27 07 2012

Adam Rapp is a risk taker pur sang. The cat absolutely loved Punkzilla. One of its most striking features may have been the ease with which Rapp gives each character a distinctive voice. Even though Punkzilla also hosted a string of society’s most marginalized outcasts, the main plot premise (a dysfunctional teen finding his way in the world) wasn’t that controversial. It’s a whole different ballgame with The Children and the Wolves. Rapp addresses things people hardly ever want to talk about: the inherent badness in certain individuals. It’s never just a nice story. It’s disturbing and unsettling.

In the case of The Children and the Wolves, this is shown in the character of Bounce – an 8th grader who is for all intents and purposes an evil genius.  Because this book is so darn short (a mere 160 pages) it would be a shame to give away too much of the story, but suffice it to say that Bounce’s Uber-arrogance gets challenged, which makes her decide to take revenge on the challenger – a poet – and to recruit two 7th graders to do part of the dirty work. The dirty work in this case is to kidnap a 3-year-old toddler, who they call ‘The Frog’, keep her captured and feed her a video game (The children and the wolves) to keep her quiet, so she can get on with the revenge plan.

The strength of Rapp’s novel yet again lies in managing to give each character a distinctive voice. There’s Wiggins, who lives alone with this mother (a nurse and a drug addict) after his father – a ranger during the Iraq war – left them. His voice is raw and real, yet sensitive at the same time. There’s Orange who lives with his disabled father. There’s The Frog, who is kept in Orange’s basement and continues to play a video game at which she gets better and better as the story progresses – a plot device as well as a metaphor. Most of all there’s Bounce of course, whose parents work for a drug company giving her an endless supply of Oxycontin. Because her parents are mostly away ‘on business’, Bounce has learned to take care of herself, and most of all, she has learned how to see the weakness in other people and to use those weaknesses to her own advantage.

The controversy of The Children and the Wolves, of course lies in the fact that these kids are so young (13 and 14) and yet are committing crimes that you’d even be repulsed by if they were committed by an adult. It also raises the question of responsibility and cause and effect. In the case of the three kids, none of the parents are so-called “responsible parents”. There are drug addicts, absent parents, lost parents, etc. , which begs the question: would these kids be the way they are if their circumstances were any different? Or – in the cause of Bounce – are they just inherently bad? Obviously there is also the question of who the victims are in this tale of sociological desolation and how the roles of victim and perpetrator are often entangled. These are the type of sociological questions (nature vs. nurture) that Adam Rapp manages to tackle in these mere 160 pages.

The Children and the Wolves is not as fleshed out as Punkzilla, but it’s definitely an interesting and risky novel(la) that dares to ask difficult questions, doesn’t shy away from taboo and will leave you with an unsettling feeling. It talks about the evil that man can do, but somehow amidst all that bottled up rage and violence, there’s a flicker of hope when Wiggins does what he does.

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4 responses

22 12 2012
The 12 of 2012! « Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] The Children and the Wolves (Adam Rapp)* […]

20 03 2013
33 Snowfish (by Adam Rapp) | Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] 33 Snowfish is not all that different from The Children and the Wolves (in which you also get three voices) or Punkzilla. In 33 Snowfish we get Custis (whose narrative […]

16 04 2013
Very LeFreak (by Rachel Cohn) | Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] if a (main) character is “unlikable”. I mean, seriously what’s to like for instance about Bounce in Adam Rapp’s The Children and the Wolves?  I do care about how that character is used in the plot of the book, in what way the other […]

9 03 2014
The Buffalo Tree (by Adam Rapp) | Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] signs of “an Adam Rapp novel” and already show his mad talent. I’d previously read Punkzilla, The Children and the Wolves and 33 Snowfish, and each of those reading experiences left me shattered. Not just because of the […]

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