Book Review: A Wolf Called Romeo

Reviewed by Nicole Rivard

Nick Jans wrote A Wolf Called Romeo because he wanted others to experience his six-year friendship with a lone black wolf. And because of Jans’ compelling voice, the reader is transported from wherever they are to Mendenhall Lake outside of Juneau, Alaska, skiing and trekking through the wilderness alongside Romeo, trying to understand his wildness as well as his desire to bond with humans and their pets in this Alaskan community. 

Despite the dark side of human nature—which haunts this tale—and a world that allows fewer and fewer spaces for the wild to exist, Jans weaves a story of hope. Because if the city of Juneau, Alaska and a lone black wolf can set an unprecedented standard for coexistence between two species as conflicted as any on earth, then we all can.
Once you pick up A Wolf Called Romeo, you won’t be able to put it down.

In a few heartbeats, the wolf had closed the distance to forty yards. He stood stiff-legged, tail raised above his back, his unblinking stare fixed on us — a dominant posture, less than reassuring. Then, with a moaning whimper, Dakotah suddenly wrenched free of the two fingers I’d hooked through her collar and bounded straight at the wolf. A tone of desperation sharpening her voice, Sherrie called again and again, but there was no stopping that dog. The Lab skidded to a stop several body lengths short of contact and stood tall, her own tail straight out, and as we watched, mouths open, the wolf lowered his to match. With the two so close, I had my first clear idea of just how large the wolf really was. Dakotah, a stocky, traditional-style female Lab, weighed in at a muscular fifty-six pounds.The black wolf towered over her, more than double her weight. Just his head and neck matched the size of her torso.

The wolf stepped stiff-legged toward Dakotah, and she answered. If she heard our calls, she gave no sign. She was locked on and intent, but utterly silent — not at all her normal happy-Lab self. She seemed half-hypnotized. She and the wolf regarded each other, as if each were glimpsing an almost-forgotten face and trying to remember.This was one of those moments when time seems to hold its breath. I lifted my camera and snapped off a single frame. As if that tiny click had been a finger snap, the world began to move again. The wolf’s stance altered. Ears perked high and held narrow, he bounced forward a body length, bowed on his forelegs, then leaned back and lifted a paw. Dakotah sidled closer and circled, her tail still straight out. The eyes of each were locked on the other. With their noses a foot apart, I pressed the shutter once more. Again, the sound seemed to break a spell. Dakotah heard Sherrie’s voice at last and bounded back toward us, turning her back, at least for now, on whatever call of the wild she’d just heard. We watched for long minutes with Dakotah softly whining at our sides, staring toward the dark, handsome stranger who stood staring our way and whining back, a high-pitched keening that filled the silence. Half stunned,Sherrie and I murmured back and forth, wondering at what we’d seen and what it meant.

But it was getting dark — time to go. The wolf stood watching our retreat, his tail flagging, then raised his muzzle to the sky in a drawn-out howl, as if crushed. At last he trotted west and faded into the trees. As we walked toward home in the deepening winter evening, the first stars flickered against the curve of space. Behind us, the wolf’s deep cries echoed off the glacier.—Excerpted from A WOLF CALLED ROMEO