A Room Away From the Wolves

  • Review
By – September 16, 2019

Does our past decide our future? Is a new begin­ning pos­si­ble? These are just some of the ques­tions asked in Nova Ren Suma’s book, A Room Away From the Wolves.

From the first page, we’re intro­duced to the Cather­ine House, a board­ing house for dis­tressed young women in Green­wich Vil­lage. The set­ting plays just as impor­tant a role in the plot as does the main char­ac­ter, Bina Trem­per. We find that it is a for­bid­ding struc­ture hid­ing more than just the secrets of its past and present res­i­dents. In this sto­ry, it offers shel­ter to two con­sec­u­tive gen­er­a­tions of Trem­per women. Bina’s moth­er takes res­i­dence there, run­ning from the mis­for­tunes of her youth and, more specif­i­cal­ly, an abu­sive rela­tion­ship with Bina’s bio­log­i­cal father. Her moth­er even­tu­al­ly escapes this rela­tion­ship only to find her­self immersed in a new life with a strict­ly reli­gious wid­ow­er with two daugh­ters. Bina’s new step­fa­ther makes it nec­es­sary for Bina and her moth­er to con­ceal their Jew­ish her­itage in order to fit into a neigh­bor­hood that is as closed-mind­ed and cru­el as Bina’s new fam­i­ly. Fol­low­ing an inci­dent of vio­lent bul­ly­ing from her two step­sis­ters, Bina escapes home and takes refuge at the Cather­ine House, where she is intro­duced to the oth­er young women who live there. The mys­te­ri­ous rit­u­als of the house and its trou­bled inhab­i­tants offer Bina a new set of ques­tions to answer: Who was the orig­i­nal own­er of the house, Cather­ine de Bar­ra? How did she die? And why does her ghost haunt the young women shel­ter­ing beneath her roof?

Mon­et, the impul­sive young woman who lives on the floor below Bina, both com­pli­cates and enrich­es her liv­ing sit­u­a­tion by befriend­ing her. Togeth­er they explore New York City, inves­ti­gat­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of what their lives could become, giv­en dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances. Both girls seem to rec­og­nize in each oth­er a strug­gle to sep­a­rate them­selves from fam­i­ly ties. What respec­tive­ly led each of them to the Cather­ine House, and what, with equal force, pro­hibits them from leav­ing again?

Through­out the nar­ra­tive Bina strug­gles with feel­ings of betray­al toward her moth­er. Bina repeat­ed­ly tries to reach out to her despite the anger she feels, believ­ing her mother’s weak­ness is to blame for her present sit­u­a­tion. The book exam­ines the com­plex­i­ties of a moth­er-daugh­ter rela­tion­ship bur­dened by past mis­takes. We are left with the feel­ing that, only by accept­ing the faults of oth­ers, can we embrace the future. 

Discussion Questions