Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Book Review/Guest Post: Maggie Elizabeth Harrington by DJ Swykert

Maggie Elizabeth Harrington, by DJ Swykert
2013, 172p, Coming of Age
My Rating=4 Stars
Source: Received copy from author for an honest review

Maggie Elizabeth Harrington is the story of a young woman in a remote 1890's northern Michigan mining town trying to save a pack of young wolves from a bounty hunter. A terse historical love story of a young woman's struggle with environmental and moral issues concerning the slaughter of wolves, and the churches condemnation of her love for a young man, are as real in today's global world as they were for young Maggie over a century ago.

This book takes place in Michigan in the summer of 1893. Maggie Elizabeth Harrington is 13 years old. She's in love with Tommie Stetter, who is a few years older than her and the brother of her best friend, Annie. Her mother has died, so she lives with her grandmother and her father, who works in the coal mine. She's an only child and her grandmother and father hardly speak to her so she's pretty lonely. She learns about a she-wolf that's in the area that's been shot and the bounty hunters are looking for her pups. She convinces Tommie and Annie to help her find them and save them from the same fate.

This story is told from Maggie's point of view and I thought the author did a good job of writing from a 13-year-old girl's perspective. She's pretty serious due to her family circumstances and seems ahead of her years. She has a tender heart that wants to take care of and protect animals. The opening line is "My father drowns my kittens." He does that since he can't afford to feed them and she hates it but feels helpless to stop it. When she sees an opportunity to help the wolf pups, she acts quickly and deals with the consequences later.

There are other things she deals with as well: death, jealousy, love, loyalty and friendship. The part I had a hard time with was her intense love for Tommie when she was only 13 years old. At one point, they take off together to help the wolves and end up sleeping next to each other (nothing inappropriate happens, just some hard kissing on the mouth). There are real and tough consequences for their actions. The ending is realistic but doesn't wrap up in a pretty bow so it leaves a lot to the imagination. There is one part that comes full circle and I liked how that situation ended. 

If you enjoy coming of age stories, this is one I highly recommend!

Guest Post: Wolves

I began writing Maggie Elizabeth Harrington intending to write a historical story about a lonely woman who loses her mind after being jilted by her lover. I ended up with a voice-driven novel about a young woman in a remote northern Michigan mining town trying to save a pack of wolves from a bounty hunter.

It wasn’t difficult to figure out how the transition occurred. I had agreed to watch a pair of arctic hybrids for a friend and soon found myself attached to the ten week old pups and fascinated by their behaviors. My reality became my fiction. Maggie would be someone who would want to protect these beautiful animals from bounty hunters. The story of Maggie Harrington and her wolves unfolded almost as it if was writing itself and the farther it progressed the further my interest in wolves increased with it.

This led me to do some research on wolves, including the studies by a professor at Michigan Technological University, Rolf Peterson, who has written extensively on the wolves of Isle Royale for thirty years. Here is a brief history of Michigan wolves. There was a time when there were abundant packs. A bounty existed on them in the early 19th century and into the twentieth century, thirty-five dollars for the head of a female, and thirty for a male. The population was decimated and for most of the second half of the twentieth century were non-existent in the state. They became protected in 1974 and the population has increased steadily since. There are about 687 recorded now that live only in the Upper Peninsula, there are still none in the Lower Peninsula. I saw my first wolf up in 1994, two of them roadside near Copper Harbor howling at the Fourth of July fireworks. I have seen perhaps a half dozen since. They have been removed from the endangered species list, and managed hunting is currently allowed once again.

The relationship between wolves and human beings is very ancient. We shared similar survival techniques; living in organized societies for protection and hunting in packs. Rather than compete for food sources we simply joined forces. I believe this is the origin of the bond between man and wolf, and now dogs, which are simply domesticated wolves. The gray wolf, canis lupis, and a domesticated dog, canis lupis familiaris, share the same DNA profile. You cannot forensically differentiate one from the other.

Maggie Elizabeth Harrington ultimately became a voice-driven novel about a young woman in a remote 1890’s northern Michigan mining town trying to save a pack of wolves from a bounty hunter. I see the book as crossing genres between YA and Literary. The narrator is thirteen and very independent, making her attractive to a YA audience, but the book’s multilayered themes, concerning social and environmental issues, are profound enough to engage literary readers.

I have since writing this book made three major observations about wolves: They work together, mate for life, and protect their young. They have a loyalty within the pack hierarchy that is beyond ours. There is no divorce in a wolf pack. Only the alpha’s mate, but they mate for life. If one of the pair is killed, the next highest ranking wolf in the pack, a beta, takes its place. They protect their young, whether it’s the alpha parent, a beta, or the omega wolf, which although relegated to the bottom of the order in the pack, does participate in pack duties, often playing the role of a babysitter while the rest of the pack hunts. If the human race lived as wolves, the earth would be a far more orderly place than it is.

Author's wolf, Mikee
I have raised and grew up with dogs all my life. It was my own experience, that Mikee and Maya, my two arctic wolf hybrids, as compared to a dog they were more like a cat, very curious, playful, and didn’t respond well to training. They make poor watchdogs as they are quite friendly and more likely to lick an intruder than bite them. They are not generally aggressive, but you can’t trust them around smaller animals, which would include children. They are predators, and like a cat, it’s their natural instinct to hunt, which makes smaller animals rather unsafe around them. I would not advise acquiring one for a family pet, especially if you have small children. In many states, including Michigan, it is illegal to keep them.

DJ Swykert is a former 911 operator. His work has appeared in The Tampa Review, Detroit News, Monarch Review, Lunch Ticket, the NewerYork, Zodiac Review, Barbaric Yawp and Bull. His books include Children of the Enemy, Maggie Elizabeth Harrington, Alpha Wolves, The Death of Anyone and The Pool Boy’s Beatitude. You can find him at: He is a wolf expert.


Unknown said...

My girls would love this just because it has wolves in it :)

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