How can one truly live when there has been so much loss? I suppose that reading about similar situations to your own can be quite therapeutic. There’s a lot of loss in our world right now; people are grieving these losses in different ways. The hope is that we can take this grief and use it as a means for personal growth. The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson resonates with me in this way – in a way I’m not sure many books could right now.
The flu led to the wars; the wars led to worldwide nuclear attacks; and the nuclear fallout led to the end of the world. Lynn McBride has been surviving with her mother, brother, and uncle in the deep, snow-laden Yukon, a few years after the flu killed her father. To Lynn, the world has been small since the collapse of civilization, but with the arrival of a mysterious traveler named Jax, Lynn’s world is about to get a whole lot bigger.
This novel is full of things you’d expect from a tale about life after the world ends: prose piecing together the past and the present; incredibly tense moments between humans and other humans; and fight scenes – beautifully vivid fight scenes. However, Lynn’s narration is what truly makes this novel unique to its genre. Her thought processes – which illuminate the never-ending cycle of grief – are contemplative, descriptive, and honest, and explain much with little telling. At one point Lynn states that “Arrows are like snow or sorrow or secrets – they seem small and light, but their weight adds up.” Snow. Sorrow. Secrets. Arrows. Each of these has an impact on Lynn with a focus on loss; however, through her trials Lynn discovers more about herself.
“It’s amazing how little we need to survive. And not just survive, but live.”
While The Wolves of Winter is certainly a book that deals with survival, I wouldn’t necessarily say it is about survival. In fact, it is much more about understanding one’s identity and learning to truly live despite devastating circumstances. This is displayed best through Lynn’s journey, which is heavily influenced by her father. Her narration often regales the reader with stories and memories of the man she knew him to be: fun, loving, brilliant, and comforting. Lynn’s father was also quite fond of the works of Walt Whitman, and as Lynn engages with some of the poet’s quotes – poetry she never truly understood in the past – she begins to learn more about herself in the process. The inclusion of a poet who’s known for being multifaceted in his philosophies (his writing was shaped by transcendentalist and realist concepts), allows Johnson to dig deeper into his protagonist’s views on the loss of the world she remembers and the world she now must make her own.
Like Lynn, whose world is continually rocked by forces out of her control, so too are we still living in a reality that oftentimes seems stranger than fiction. And just as Lynn braves these trials through learning to live, so too do we find ways to live in what seems like a constant state of uncertainty. Through alluring and poignant prose, and an awesome, relatable lead, Tyrell Johnson has crafted a fascinating examination of the ways in which humans cope with grief and what it means to truly live.