Archive | 10:11 AM

Book Review: History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (4/5)

10 Apr

I love when my book club picks amazing books that I’ve never heard up but end up loving! This was one such example. I don’t think I’d heard much about this book until it was on our list and I always try not to read the summaries or read reviews before I pick up a book because I love figuring things out with the characters and not having a surprise ruined for me.

Cover image via Goodreads

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

Summary from Goodreads:

Fourteen-year-old Madeline lives with her parents in the beautiful, austere woods of northern Minnesota, where their nearly abandoned commune stands as a last vestige of a lost counter-culture world. Isolated at home and an outlander at school, Madeline is drawn to the enigmatic, attractive Lily and new history teacher Mr. Grierson. When Mr. Grierson is charged with possessing child pornography, the implications of his arrest deeply affect Madeline as she wrestles with her own fledgling desires and craving to belong.

And then the young Gardner family moves in across the lake and Madeline finds herself welcomed into their home as a babysitter for their little boy, Paul. It seems that her life finally has purpose but with this new sense of belonging she is also drawn into secrets she doesn’t understand. Over the course of a few days, Madeline makes a set of choices that reverberate throughout her life. As she struggles to find a way out of the sequestered world into which she was born, Madeline confronts the life-and-death consequences of the things people do—and fail to do—for the people they love.

Madeline was a great character to tell this story. Because of her strange parents and childhood, she’s an outcast and she approaches everything with skepticism. Even the normal, she’s wary of. So her wariness around Mr. Grierson and around Patra seem equally rooted. After seeing that there was something off about Mr. Grierson, you start to wonder about Patra. The plot is layered well and there are inklings of things that could go wrong early on. Nothing too telling, of course, but just enough for you to wonder why the Gardners were living in a small town.

I felt the schoolchildren were the most realistic to me. They reminded me of classmates in high school who were mean to the weird kids and quickly forgot anyone who left no matter the reason. There were concerned with themselves only and didn’t care about what happened at other people’s homes behind closed doors. It was easy to see how Madeline could sneak through school like she was watching it instead of participating.

Patra was my favorite character. She seemed stuck between a rock and a hard place and was doing the best she could. She loved her husband and, of course, she loved Paul. The dilemma of the whole story could be summarized as the decision Patra had to make. I have a very close friend who practices Christian Science and it’s something we’ve talked about and I know was a point of contention with her spouse when they talked about marriage and a family. It’s a belief that’s not easy to stand by in today’s society and I can see the moral grey space that Patra fell into as a result.

It was easy to relate to Madeline because she seemed to be watching things happen around her without taking much action herself. I think that’s why the ending with her in Duluth didn’t do much for me. I didn’t really care what happened to her but I needed to know what happened to Mr. Grierson, Lilly, and Patra. Madeline had to react to what happened around her but she didn’t play much of a role in the plot which made her a good narrator. She reacted in many of the same ways I would have. I don’t meddle much in other people’s lives but I watch, much like Madeline did. Does that sound creepy? I hope not.

Emily Fridlund
Image via Goodreads

I liked the trial. It was interesting to see what Madeline was going to lie about and how she always admitted she was lying. The truth was revealed over such a long time and in such small glimpses that I didn’t know what was true for a long time and things came out at the trial (Patra seeing medical help) that I’m glad weren’t revealed because Madeline shouldn’t have known them. Fridlund did a great job of letting the reader discover the truth at the same pace Madeline did.

I didn’t like the Lilly sub-plot of the book. Reading the interview in the back of my copy, it sounds like a scene with Mr. Grierson and Lilly was the inspiration for the book. I understand wanting to leave that in because it inspired the book, but I felt it detracted from the Gardner plot line which in itself was a great book.

Christian Science can be a grey area for those who do not practice it. Is not seeking medical attention when someone requires it neglect when it’s a religious belief that’s being followed? I thought this was a great question to bring up and I think Patra’s uncertainty added to the plot and the grey-ness of the questions being posed. I’m not going to take a stand here. All I’ll say is that I’m a strong believer in religious freedoms and not imposing the moral values of one religion on another person who believes in a second set of values. It becomes hard when the lines are fuzzy and I think that’s when it’s necessary to listen instead of preach.

Writer’s Takeaway: Having a lead character who watches the main action happen was an interesting way to tell the story. It was nice to have an unbiased opinion of what was happening and I think that was key to the debate that came as a result of the Gardners’ story. Not every book needs an unbiased narrator but it worked well in this case. I think books about other hot-button issues could benefit from the same technique.

A good read that kept me entertained and made me think. Four out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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