"St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves" by Karen Russell

In this short story, the narrator and other girls raised by wolves try to adapt to life in human society.
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Explore the Words

definitions & notes only words
  1. kempt
    neat and tidy
    We forgot the barked cautions of our mothers and fathers, all the promises we'd made to be civilized and ladylike, couth and kempt.
  2. austere
    severely simple
    We tore through the austere rooms, overturning dresser drawers, pawing through the neat piles of the Stage 3 girls' starched underwear, smashing lightbulbs with our bare fists.
  3. kinetic
    characterized by motion
    We jumped from bunk to bunk, spraying. We nosed each other midair, our bodies buckling in kinetic laughter.
  4. languid
    lacking spirit or liveliness
    In Copacabana, the girls are fat and languid and eat pink slivers of guava right out of your hand.
  5. hirsute
    having or covered with hair
    Our pack was hirsute and sinewy and mostly brunette.
  6. sinewy
    possessing physical strength and weight; rugged and powerful
    Our pack was hirsute and sinewy and mostly brunette.
  7. beatific
    resembling or befitting an angel or saint
    "The girls at our facility are backwoods," Sister Josephine whispered to Sister Maria de la Guardia with a beatific smile. "You must be patient with them."
  8. apiary
    a shed containing a number of beehives
    We ran past the wild apiary, past the felled oaks, until we could see the white steeple of St. Lucy's rising out of the forest.
  9. ostracize
    avoid speaking to or dealing with
    They had been ostracized by the local farmers for eating their silled fruit pies and terrorizing the heifers. They had ostracized the local wolves by having sometimes-thumbs, and regrets, and human children.
  10. purgatory
    a temporary condition of torment or suffering
    Our pack grew up in a green purgatory. We couldn't keep up with the purebred wolves, but we never stopped crawling.
  11. pidgin
    a simplified language allowing communication between groups
    We spoke a slab-tongued pidgin in the cave, inflected with frequent howls. Our parents wanted something better for us; they wanted us to get braces, use towels, be fully bilingual.
  12. exultant
    joyful and proud especially because of triumph or success
    Our diminished pack threw back our heads in a celebratory howl—an exultant and terrible noise, even without a chorus of wolf brothers in the background.
  13. inter
    place in a grave or tomb
    We supplemented these holes by digging some of our own. We interred sticks, and our itchy new jumpers, and the bones of the friendly, unfortunate squirrels.
  14. confer
    have a meeting in order to talk something over
    They conferred in the shadow of the juniper tree, whispering and pointing.
  15. register
    timbre characteristic of a certain range of the human voice
    She backed towards the far corner of the garden, snarling in the most menacing register that an eight-year-old wolf-girl can muster.
  16. tawny
    having the color of tanned leather
    We had never wanted to run away so badly in our lives; but who did we have to run back to? Only the curled black grimace of the mother. Only the father, holding his tawny head between his paws.
  17. bipedal
    having and walking on two feet
    The advanced girls could already alternate between two speeds: "slouch" and" amble." Almost everybody was fully bipedal.
  18. dander
    particles of animal skin or hair that may be allergenic
    Mirabella would rip foamy chunks out of the church pews and replace them with ham bones and girl dander.
  19. abase
    cause to feel shame
    The main commandment of wolf life is Know Your Place, and that translated perfectly. Being around other humans had awakened a slavish-dog affection in us. An abasing, belly-to-the-ground desire to please.
  20. latent
    potentially existing but not presently evident or realized
    As soon as we realized that someone higher up in the food chain was watching us, we wanted only to be pleasing in their sight. Mouth shut, I repeated, shoes on feet. But if Mirabella had this latent instinct, the nuns couldn't figure out how to activate it.
  21. gilded
    made from or covered with gold
    She'd go bounding around, gleefully spraying on their gilded statue of St. Lucy, mad-scratching at the virulent fleas that survived all of their powders and baths.
  22. lope
    run easily
    She was still loping around on all fours (which the nuns had taught us to see looked unnatural and ridiculous—we could barely believe it now, the shame of it, that we used to locomote like that!), her fists blue-white from the strain.
  23. colloquial
    characteristic of informal spoken language or conversation
    Jeanette spiffed her penny loafers until her very shoes seemed to gloat. (Linguists have since traced the colloquial origins of "goody two-shoes" back to our facilities.)
  24. vie
    compete for something
    I probably could have vied with Jeanette for the number one spot, but I'd seen what happened if you gave in to your natural aptitudes.
  25. reverie
    absentminded dreaming while awake
    We spent a lot of time daydreaming during this period. Even Jeanette. Sometimes I'd see her looking out at the woods in a vacant way. If you interrupted her in the midst of one of these reveries, she would lunge at you with an elder-sister ferocity, momentarily forgetting her human catechism.
  26. catechism
    an elementary book summarizing the principles of a religion
    We spent a lot of time daydreaming during this period. Even Jeanette. Sometimes I'd see her looking out at the woods in a vacant way. If you interrupted her in the midst of one of these reveries, she would lunge at you with an elder-sister ferocity, momentarily forgetting her human catechism.
  27. rosary
    a string of beads used in counting prayers
    Much later, they found Mirabella wading in the shallows of a distant river, trying to strangle a mallard with her rosary beads.
  28. prim
    affectedly dainty or refined
    The final slide was a bolded sentence in St. Lucy's prim script: DO YOU WANT TO END UP SHUNNED BY BOTH SPECIES?
  29. keen
    express grief verbally
    She was covered with splinters, keening a high, whining noise through her nostrils.
  30. etiquette
    rules governing socially acceptable behavior
    Etiquette was so confounding in this country.
  31. intone
    utter monotonously and repetitively and rhythmically
    "Something must be done," Sister Ignatius said firmly. The other nuns nodded, a sea of thin, colorless lips and kettle-black brows. "Something must be done," they intoned.
  32. oblique
    slanting or inclined in direction or course or position
    Beulah pretended not to mind when we got frustrated with the oblique, fussy movement from square to square and shredded the board to ribbons.
  33. rudimentary
    being or involving basic facts or principles
    Jeanette was learning how to dance. On Holy Thursday, she mastered a rudimentary form of the Charleston.
  34. inducement
    a positive motivational influence
    The nuns decided we needed an inducement to dance. They announced that we would celebrate our successful rehabilitations with a Debutante Ball.
  35. aria
    an elaborate song for solo voice
    The choir director—aggressively perfumed Mrs. Valuchi, gold necklaces like pineapple rings around her neck—taught us more than the nuns ever did. She showed us how to pattern the old hunger into arias.
  36. nave
    the central area of a church
    Clouds moved behind the frosted oculus of the nave, glass shadows that reminded me of my mother.
  37. rectory
    an official residence provided by a church for a minister
    The nuns had transformed the rectory into a very scary place.
  38. eaves
    the overhang at the lower edge of a roof
    Black streamers swooped down from the eaves and got stuck in our hair like bats.
  39. pomade
    hairdressing consisting of a perfumed oil or ointment
    The brothers didn't smell like our brothers anymore. They smelled like pomade and cold, sterile sweat.
  40. tactful
    showing skill and sensitivity in dealing with people
    But we had only gotten up to Unit 7: Party Dialogue; we hadn't yet learned the vocabulary for Unit 12: How to Tactfully Acknowledge Disaster.
  41. diphthong
    a sound that glides between two vowels in a single syllable
    "You smell astoooounding!" Kyle was saying, accidentally stretching the diphthong into a howl and then blushing.
  42. feral
    wild and menacing
    I had rubbed a pumpkin muffin all over my body earlier that morning to mask my natural, feral scent. Now I smelled like a purebred girl, easy to kill.
  43. loll
    hang loosely or laxly
    I could feel my jaws gaping open, my tongue lolling out of the left side of my mouth.
  44. enunciation
    the articulation of speech with regards to intelligibility
    “I wasn’t talking to you,” I grunted from underneath her. “I didn’t want your help. Now you have ruined the Sausalito! You have ruined the ball!” I said more loudly, hoping the nuns would hear how much my enunciation had improved.
  45. communal
    for or by a group rather than individuals
    We graduated from St. Lucy’s shortly thereafter. As far as I can recollect, that was our last communal howl.
Created on May 29, 2020 (updated June 2, 2020)

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