Winter of the Wolf
The Winter of the Wolf by Martha Hunt Handler is 'a tragic mystery blending sleuthing and spirituality."
When I received the offer for the ARC, the description piqued my interest:
"Winter of the Wolf follows Bean, an empathic and spiritually evolved fifteen-year-old, who is determined to unravel the mystery of her brother Sam’s death. Though all evidence points to a suicide, her heart and intuition compel her to dig deeper. With help from her friend Julie, they retrace Sam’s steps, delve into his Inuit beliefs, and reconnect with their spiritual beliefs to uncover clues beyond material understanding."
Recently, I had been in the mood for books that were a little bit of everything. And from the sound of it, this book fit that description. Sleuthing and spirituality, grief and teen angst, family dynamics. It sounds like it had it all!
I also thought reading a wintery book in July might help me beat the heat. If it could transport me to a cold Minnesota winter, maybe I wouldn't feel so hot and humid.
I don't know if this was just wishful thinking, but as I was reading this book, there was actually a day where the air conditioning in our apartment stopped working. As Bean would say, there's no such thing as coincidences, just co-incidents!
A little bit of everything sounds great, but I think this is primarily a story of grief and loss before anything else. As the description mentioned Sam's death is ruled a suicide so there are a lot of thoughts and conversations that center around coming to terms with that news. In particular, the loss of a child, could be triggering for someone reading this book.
It's from Bean's perspective that we see the aftermath of Sam's death unfold, but one of the most beautiful parts of the book was the way in which the family, despite this shattering news, found themselves coming back to each other. A sudden loss can turn your world upside down. And when your whole support system is dealing with the aftermath, who do you turn to?
It was actually really disappointing to me to read what the family was facing. Not just the stigma around mental health, but the fact that, in what I imagined to be a small Midwest town, the whole community failed them. If nothing else, I hope readers remember that awful feeling and decide to do better, should someone in their community find themselves in a similar situation. To think when dealing with grief and loss, families have to deal with gossip and rumors as well.
I was also really intrigued by how the Inuit beliefs would fit into the story. Not going to lie, I was definitely a little nervous, because I don't think the author, Martha Hunt Handler, is Inuit, and I really do value own voices stories. But I also didn't want to write off the story without knowing what exactly the role of the Inuit beliefs would be in this book.
Luckily, that anxiety was quickly put to rest. This story is not about Inuits, but about a teenage girl, dealing with the sudden death of her beloved older brother, Sam, who happened to be very much interested in Inuit beliefs. Think of that kid you know who is obsessed with rocks, dinosaurs, space, etc. It’s all they want to learn about. That was Sam with Inuit culture. I hate to compare people and a culture to hobbies like rocks and animals, but that’s the best way I can describe Sam’s relationship with Inuit beliefs: he learned about it at a young age, become obsessed, and needed to learn anything and everything about it.
Throughout the book the Inuit beliefs are referenced as a driving force in the way Sam saw the world. He was incredibly conscious of the environment and this was how his obsession with Inuit beliefs manifests itself into his personality, and his life choices. Inuit beliefs are the lens he sees the world through. So when Bean is unable to reconcile the suicide with the Sam she knew, she again and again turns to Inuit beliefs to try and understand what could have happened.
As I mentioned previously, I hate to compare an interest in rocks and animals to an interest in Indigenous culture. This is someone‘s culture and demands additional care and respect. Unfortunately, there were times where I felt Bean didn’t have that respect that Sam might have had, for Inuit beliefs. There is a part where she is reading about Inuit beliefs, trying to find anything that might help her explain what happened with Sam and she says something along the lines of ‘I guess we shouldn’t take any of this too seriously.’
It seemed really out of character to me that this empathic and spiritual girl would be disrespectful to another culture, and towards something her beloved brother cared so deeply about. In these moments, I’m reminded that Bean is, ultimately, a teenager. There is still much to be learned and she says herself, she is finding her way back to how spiritual she was prior to Sam’s death. I also recognize that she, and even her mother, are grasping desperately for a belief system to make sense of their world, and more recently their loss. It definitely left me thinking about where the line is between someone processing their grief and cultural appropriation.
Overall, this book was a quick read, and I think it can be a great introduction for someone young dealing with grief, to feeling empowered and knowing that there is hope. That moving forward is possible.
Without further ado! Recommended book pairings!
1. Wolf Conservation - Author Martha Hunt Handler earned a degree in environmental conservation at UC Boulder, and worked as an environmental consultant in D.C., San Francisco and Los Angeles. The comfort from animals and nature in this book is definitely something personal, and not just for the sake of a story. So as you're reading this, you might want to be closer to nature as well. A little difficult right now, with COVID.
But have no fear!
The Wolf Conservation Center in Salem, NY has multiple webcams set up for anyone anywhere in the world to catch a glimpse of the very wolves they're working to protect!
2. Native American Arts & Crafts - I touched a bit on respecting others' cultures, and cultural appropriation. If reading this book increases your interest in Inuit culture, or Indigenous cultures in general, and you find yourself wanting to explore this culture, it's important that you do so respectfully. Some key bits of information to do that!
The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990, prohibits misrepresentation in marketing of Native arts and crafts products within the United States. It is illegal to offer or display for sale, or sell any art or craft product in a manner that falsely suggests it is produced by Native Americans.
This is difficult to regulate. If you look at Etsy, you will see tons of products that are described as "Native," "Indian," or "Tribal," products such as dream catchers, t-shirts, and various other knick knacks. These are products that cannot legally be sold unless produced by Native Americans. One source I've found that is helpful is Beyond Buckskin, a website and business created by Dr. Jessica R. Metcalfe (Turtle Mountain Chippewa), who holds a PhD in American Indian Studies.
The blog started as a way to share Dr. Metcalfe's dissertation on Native American fashion, but continues to promote and sell Native American made fashion. Beyond Buckskin promotes cultural appreciation without appropriation. There is also a list of verified Native Owned businesses that can help you in your search to buy and support Native arts and crafts. I'm itching to purchase this gorgeous blanket myself!
A key to cultural appreciation is crediting and compensating the creators of the culture.
3. 52 Lists for Togetherness - If you read Bean's journey and find yourself wishing you had a similar relationship with your siblings, or at least a stronger connection, I'm recommending 52 Lists for Togetherness by Moorea Seal. I adore her guided journals and this one in particular is focused on celebrating the relationships in our lives and building deeper connections with our loved ones. Get it here!
Last, but certainly not least, if you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide or depression, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 1-800-273-8255.