Our Home to the Wild book review considers why we find the concept of a human finding a home in the animal kingdom so appealing, as well as how author Francesca McMahon brings more emotional depth to the trope than we’ve seen before.
I remember well the wonder I felt when watching Tarzan, and while that was certainly in part due to Phil Collins’ soundtrack, I was also deeply moved as a child by the idea that belonging is about more than just blood relation. There was a safety I felt when reading the way Mowgli was cared for in The Jungle Book by creatures that had nothing to gain and no outside obligation to him. I think this is why we love imagining that animals would take in and care for a lost human child. We want to know there is an innate belonging in the world. We want proof that we would have a home even if we had nothing to offer in exchange for it. We want a pack. Home to the Wild by Francesca McMahon explores that truth from every angle.
This YA novel follows a pack of wolves, several of whom were introduced in the short story prequel “Echoes of the Past,” as they navigate life as a pack in an environment corrupted by humans. Of course, at the center of this pack is a wolf pup who isn’t quite like the others. Little One, as she is called, is a human child who was abandoned as an infant, and subsequently found and raised by this pack of wolves. We follow as Little One, along with the matriarchs of the pack Larka and Rae, tell the story of their family and fight to keep them safe.
In this Home to the Wild book review, I want to explore what Francesca MacMahon added to this age-old story with their new book. Often, these stories are told in an effort to show the violence of humans and bring attention to environmental causes, and Home to the Wild certainly does this. We see the wolves suffer from a dwindling food supply, diseases introduced by humans, a shrinking habitat, and even the direct violence of hunting for sport. Wolves are currently an endangered species because of the violence people wield, and Home to the Wild by Francesca MacMahon does not shy away from that truth. However, the book doesn’t stop there. In addition to sweeping existential themes about environmentalism, the story manages to be deeply personal.
In many ways, Home to the Wild feels like a character study. We are allowed insight into Little One’s personal journey of feeling as though she belongs in her own pack even when outside forces try to convince her she doesn’t. While not many readers will have had the experience of being adopted into a group of animals and living in a forest, anyone who reads this book and has ever felt out of place will see themselves in Little One. One of the novel’s strengths is its multiple point of view structure that allows us to see the other side of this common narrative of belonging. From Larka and Rae’s perspectives, we see the work they do to protect Little One, to accommodate the needs she has that are different from the other pack members, and most importantly, we see that they never question her place with them. It is immensely powerful to be shown that while you may find yourself wondering whether you fit into the family you love, no one else has any doubts.
The found family trope is quite popular in modern literature, but it undoubtedly has its roots in queer stories. Home to the Wild by Francesca MacMahon manages to use this convention as an allegory for the queer experience, something its young adult audience will undoubtedly benefit from. Little One has a queer experience, not only in her innate difference from the rest of her family or pack, but also in the relationship she experiences with another human girl that she calls Oak. Writing a story of belonging in such a way where you introduce themes of queerness, both overtly and as allegory, introduces young readers to the idea of queerness as an expansive ideology and not just a sexuality. Queerness can and does mean so many different things to so many different people, and Home to the WIld by Francesca MacMahon does an excellent job balancing that truth for its audience.
This Home to the Wild book review believes the story’s strength is in its humanity, something we find so much of in its nonhuman characters. This book explores deep emotional experiences, such as grief, long-term partnership, and generational relationships. While the narrators telling this story are not always human, these experiences deeply resonate with its readers. We are taken along the emotional journeys of these characters and are able to experience their perspectives. As we alternate between the women and she-wolves who find themselves at the center of this family, or pack, we are let into a world that is as complex and worthy of writing about as our own. Pairing this with the themes of queerness and belonging that are a part of the very fabric of this story, it is easy to see why Home to the Wild is destined to be a staple in YA literature. I did not expect to be moved to tears when I picked up this book, but if I had known ahead of time the emotional vulnerability inside, I would have brought tissues.
‘Home to the Wild’ published on August 20, 2022
This article was written by Subjectify contributor Megan Peterson. Look for more recommendations like this Home to the Wild book review on our books page.