A ROOM AWAY FROM THE WOLVES has heart, but fails to fully engage in its own premise.
Bina has always hoped that her life would be something bigger, something more. But when she and her mother finally leave her abusive father, her dreams of an unpredictable but free life are squashed when her mother settles down with the next man she meets, prioritizing a stepfather who largely ignores Bina’s existence and two cruel stepsisters over Bina herself, all in the name of security.
Years have gone by since then, but Bina still hasn’t adjusted. The latest in a string of incidents is about to get Bina sent away, and that’s when when she decides to strike out on her own first. She knows exactly where she’ll go: Catherine House, a boarding house where her mother stayed in her youth, before she met Bina’s father. Of course, Bina’s mother always spoke vaguely of Catherine House and when Bina gets there, it’s not at all what she expected.
I didn’t know anything about A Room Away From The Wolves other than the description on the inside flap before I started reading. Perhaps it’s my own fault for expecting a twisty paranormal mystery featuring two young women falling in love (this book is not that, despite the description sounding like that) but I found myself struggling with this novel. It’s hauntingly surreal and Nova Ren Suma’s writing style is quite lovely, but the story lacked a solid plot and the mystery fell flat.
Once Bina gets to Catherine House, things sort of fall apart. There is a mystery there, but it seemed like the author didn’t know what to do with it. Frustration builds as the secrets of the Catherine House become painstakingly obvious to the reader, but Bina remains in complete denial, trying to explain very obvious paranormal dealings as a trick of the light, a daydream, etc. Surely, a couple things could be explained away, but Bina does it so often that she just looks incredibly naive.
Bina builds up a relationship with her upstairs neighbor, Monet, who believes Bina may have the key to leaving Catherine House. The two girls are extremely curious about one another and strike up an unconventional friendship of sorts. Curiosity slowly morphs into obsession, but it was hard to see the “why” behind it. Despite one scene that gave the two a beautiful, cathartic moment together, there wasn’t a whole lot of chemistry, even platonically. I had hoped their story would be a romance, but it never felt like one. In fact, exactly WHAT type of feelings the two have for each other is never that clear.
This also isn’t a novel in which a whole lot happens. This is heavily reflective material that’s character driven with very few important plot beats. I feel like I could describe all the major moments in just a few sentences, because a large chunk of it all is Bina thinking about her past and talking with the other residents of Catherine House.
I read on however, because I was waiting for it: The big twist, the bombshell, the one moment that explained the strange ways of Catherine House and how they connected to Bina’s past or even an ancient history far beyond Bina. The end of the novel falls upon it casually, almost accidentally, with little fanfare. It mostly confirmed what I already suspected, and left several more specific questions unanswered. The ending felt purposefully convoluted, more haphazard than magical.
If you’re a fan of Nova Ren Suma’s other novels, you’ll probably enjoy this one, but it just didn’t work for me.
Thank you to Algonquin Teen for providing me with a copy of this novel.
RATING: 2.5 OUT OF 5 STARS
Bina has never forgotten the time she and her mother ran away from home. Her mother promised they would hitchhike to the city to escape Bina’s cruel father and start over. But before they could even leave town, Bina had a new stepfather and two new stepsisters, and a humming sense of betrayal pulling apart the bond with her mother—a bond Bina thought was unbreakable.
Eight years later, after too many lies and with trouble on her heels, Bina finds herself on the side of the road again, the city of her dreams calling for her. She has an old suitcase, a fresh black eye, and a room waiting for her at Catherine House, a young women’s residence in Greenwich Village with a tragic history, a vow of confidentiality, and dark, magical secrets. There, Bina is drawn to her enigmatic downstairs neighbor Monet, a girl who is equal parts intriguing and dangerous. As Bina’s lease begins to run out, and nightmare and memory get tangled, she will be forced to face the terrible truth of why she’s come to Catherine House and what it will take for her to leave…