Ben Silver is at home after school, shooting a stop animation movie in his bedroom, when police arrive at the front door. ‘Where are your parents?’ they ask. As far as Ben knows, his parents are at work at their wrecking business. They’re not. They turn up moments later, telling Ben and his little sister Olive to pack a bag because the family is going on a holiday. Their first ever. But it doesn’t seem like a holiday. Why have they changed cars? What was in the grey sports bag that Uncle Chris gave Dad? And how can Mum and Dad think that staying in the falling-down cabin in the bush miles from anywhere is like a holiday? It doesn’t take long for Ben to realise that his parents are in trouble. Ben’s always dreamt of becoming a detective – his dad even calls him ‘Cop’. Now Ben gathers evidence and tries to uncover what his parents have done, writing down the clues in the brown leather notebook that belonged to his grandfather. The problem is if he figures it out, what should he do? Tell someone? Or keep the secret and live life on the run?
From Penguin books, <https://penguin.com.au/books/two-wolves-9780857982032>
The following boxes contain content from Random House Australia's Two wolves teacher's guide
Ben’s weight is an issue for him – he knows he is ‘slightly overweight’ and he has been teased about it at school. His nan thinks it’s caused by ‘the rotten dinners his parents fed him from the burger chain on the corner’ (p. 4) and his mum tries to help by offering advice but she sometimes makes Ben feel worse about himself. As part of his character arc and because of the circumstances he finds himself in – having to survive with no food in the bush – Ben gradually overcomes his weight issues. At the end of the book we learn that he has been lifting weights, and has grown taller in the year following his ordeal. His new level of fitness plays a role in helping him to stand up to his dad’s bullying.
Below is a short film, Identity, written and directed by KJ Adames and produced by Stella Davis:
"Living in a world where everybody wears masks due to lack of self-identity, a brave girl encounters the truth that sets her free"
Ben wants to be a detective when he grows up, and he’s particularly interested in police work and procedures. His stop-animation film is about a detective called Ben Silver – Ben is using his film to live out his dream. And when the family are pulled over by police, Ben is given a business card with the police motto. What Ben learns about his family – in particular, that his dad and grandfather had criminal tendencies – shakes Ben to his core. He must ask himself: if being a police officer is about upholding the law and being truthful, can you become a police officer if you have made bad decisions or told lies? When the police arrive at the cabin, Ben must make the ultimate decision: whether to run towards them or away. His decision will affect his family and even his and his sister’s lives, and he may come to regret it – but he must also learn to live with his decisions, and, in the end, make amends and set things right.
• ‘Culpam Poena Premit Comes – the police motto. Something about honesty, truth, abiding by the law.’ (p. 171)
• ‘Ben had found the translation of this in a book – something like “Punishment follows closely on the heels of crime”. It had proven true but it was almost too simple and neat for Ben now, too black and white.’ (p. 270)
Ben likes to think about the concept of self, contemplating who he is and what ‘me’ means. The question, of course, becomes even more important as he learns more about what his parents have done, and he wonders whether he will become like them. Key quotes • ‘I’m me, he thought. Not this again, said another voice inside him. But if I’m me then who is everybody else? Ben often had these ‘I’m me’ sessions. It was usually when he was walking home from school or before he went to sleep . . .
•'I am me. But, if I’m me, then who are Mum and Dad? Who are James and Gus? Are they ‘me’, too? They think they’re ‘me’. They call themselves ‘I’ just like I do. So how am I different? I’m in a different body but are we the same thing somehow? Ben’s ‘I’m me’ sessions always brought up more questions than answers. Each time he tried to capture ‘me’, it would disappear into the dark corners of his mind, like a dream he was desperately trying to remember. Where did his thoughts and ideas come from? Even the thought ‘I’m me’ – what was that? It felt like there was someone back there saying things that Ben couldn’t control.’ (pp. 35–36)
• ‘He had never really thought that much about where meat came from before, about the process of an animal becoming food. Did it become meat as soon as it died or only once it was ready to be cooked? Or was it always meat? Am I meat? he wondered. Ben squeezed his bicep. Maybe I am, he thought. I hope they don’t eat me.’ (p. 113)
• ‘Ben no longer knew if he was a detective or a thief. His dream was to be an officer of the law, but his reality was very, very different. I’m me, said a voice in his head. Not now, Ben thought. I’m me, said the voice again, but they are me too. My own blood.’ (pp. 172–173)
With the title of the book being Two Wolves, wolves are of course a key motif. Not only is there the obvious parallel to be drawn between the ‘two wolves’ epigraph and Ben’s own dilemmas, but there are also more subtle uses of wolf, dog and animal symbolism.
• Ben thinks Dad looks ‘rat-like’ (p. 12)
• Olive calls Dad Maugrim, the evil wolf henchman from C.S. Lewis (p. 14)
• Ben thinks Dad ‘looked more like a dog than a rat today’ (p. 106)
• Ben’s dream: ‘The wolf had his father’s eyes’ (p. 121)
• Olive calls their parents ‘dirty dogs’ for leaving them alone at the cabin, and it becomes Ben’s chant while he saws (p. 133)
• ‘Dad released his grip and walked out of the cabin, shouting into the night like a crazed beast.’ (p. 155)
• ‘He had leg-length. He could take Ben down like a wolf chasing a rabbit. Eat him alive. Black and crispy on the outside, raw in the middle.’ (p. 159)
• ‘Now they were wolves behind the hen house.’ (p. 249)
• Dad says ‘I’ve been living like an animal.’ (p. 264)
• Dad is both a lame dog and a vicious dog in the climactic scene, right down to biting Ben’s arm and drawing blood (p. 268) .
Contrasting with the metaphor of wolf as hunter and destroyer, there is the symbolism of the rabbit, its potential prey. The cooking of the rabbit Dad has shot could also be seen as symbolic of Dad’s failure to take control of the situation the family are in, and his botched attempts to run away with the money, as well as his inability to see when a plan is failing – which becomes his downfall. The family’s reactions to the raw inside, burnt outside ‘rabbit-fail’ (p. 116) help to convey their individual feelings about Dad to the reader, and how they cope with him – Ben ‘trying to sound tough and manly while still refusing to eat the meat’ (p. 116); Olive ignoring Dad altogether; Mum trying to distract everyone with the other food on offer.
• Olive has a ‘dirty, grey stuffed rabbit’ toy called Bonzo (p. 9) – Bonzo symbolises Olive’s innocence as a young child of seven, as well as her determination, since she won’t leave Bonzo behind
• Ben sees a rabbit in the bush (p. 70) – wild and shy, it skitters off when Ben moves
• On p. 159 Ben sees himself as a rabbit, being chased by his father, the wolf
• On pp. 103 to 110 Dad is hunting rabbits with Pop’s old rifle: ‘Ben hoped that the rabbit was way underground, settling in for a bunch of carrots and a long nap.’ (p. 106) Dad is about to shoot the rabbit at the end of the chapter: ‘“Bang,” Dad whispered.’ (p.110)
• The scene of Dad skinning the rabbit is described in vivid detail on p. 111 and following pages: ‘The rings of the tree, stained with blood, seemed to radiate out from the rabbit. The one brown eye that Ben could see looked alive but the rest of the animal was floppy and lifeless.’ (p. 112)
• On pp. 215–216 Ben likens Olive to a rabbit: ‘She ate the crisp, juicy tips of fern fronds instead, nibbling at them like a pink-eyed rabbit’
• Ben also sees Olive as a helpless koala when she is ill: ‘Just two little koala claws clutching his shoulders.’ (p. 218)