Borderline by Bonnie Rozanski (2007, Young Adult, 224 pages).
A mother of young children (which is what I am) is not the target audience for Borderline. The book starts with a parent's worst nightmare-- a sweet, charming baby boy, falling away into autism; the mother becoming so caught up in trying to bring him back that she has little to give to her older son. That older son is Guy, the narrator of this story-- now an adolescent, struggling in school, struggling to keep going with little support from his family, but with a good friend, Matt, and a wolf he befriends in his father's lab. The younger son is Austin, now five, inarticulate and unresponsive.
The wolf is part of a study that Guy's father is working on exploring the evolution of domesticity--how many generations of breeding the most dog-like wolves must pass before you end up with a dog. Wolf is not doing well on the "being a dog" tests, and in the climax of the book, Guy, Wolf, Matt and Austin (the only one able to open Wolf's cage), head out into the woods before Wolf, deemed a failed experiment, is euthanized.
Within this plot, Borderline explores the complex relationship between development and environment. Guy's mother is obsessed with figuring out what caused Austin's autism, his father is obsessed with his work on the wolves . And Matt is also struggling with a toxic environment--in his case, a life centered around fast food, that is killing his overweight father and putting him at risk too. At times, the issues get a bit in the way of the story--at the funeral of his father, for instance, Matt stands up to deliver a diatribe against fast food that seems a tad over the top. But these issues are real, and Bonnie Rozanski's knowledgeable exploration of them adds a thought-provoking dimension to the book.
(I received a review copy of this book from its publisher, Porcipine's Quill).