"The sun kept on with its slipping away,
and I thought how many small good things in the world might be resting
on the shoulders of something terrible."
-Carol Rifka Brunt, Tell the Wolves I'm Home, pg. 233
Tell the Wolves I'm Home is the first novel by author Carol Rifka Brunt. It was listed on many "best of" lists in 2012, and came out in paperback this month. I picked up a signed copy at Target last week because the cover jumped out at me and I have to say it was a worthy purchase.
Tell the Wolves I'm Home is the story of fourteen-year-old June as she attempts to cope with the death of her uncle and closest confidant, famous painter Finn Weiss, by AIDS in the spring of 1987. Though touted as a "coming-of-age" story, I felt that this novel was so much more than that. It is the struggle of a young girl to understand what love really is, and she gets a first-hand look at the many types and the sacrifices that those in love make for their lovers. There are a few pairs of characters juxtaposed with each other, including Finn, whom the reader barely meets before his death, and his boyfriend Toby, June and her older sister Greta, as well as June's parents, who are both tax accountants dealing with their busiest time of year. The story centers around June getting to know Toby, a stranger to June until she sees him for the first time at Finn's funeral and is told by her older sister that he is Finn's "murderer."
June is also right at the age where she is not quite a child, but not yet an young adult. Her perceptions of the world are changing, and she struggles to figure out what her relationship should be with each member of her family. She has always felt like she does not fit in, and Finn was the one who made her feel special. With him gone, she is bereft. Just as Toby begins to fill the hole left by Finn, June begins to wonder if he spends time with her for herself, or because Finn asked him to. She relates herself to a falconer whose birds fail to return. She thinks
"I used to think maybe I wanted to become a falconer, and now I'm sure of it, because I need to figure out the secret. I need to work out how to keep things flying back to me instead of always flying away."Her sister, Greta, is also going through a "coming-of-age," though it is a transition from young adult to adult, with real life goals and expectations. She wavers between being the loving sister who is excited to share life with June to a mean, typical teenager who cannot control her emotions. She excels at musical theatre, so much so that she has been invited to audition for a Broadway role, but the idea of being on her own and responsible for her life scares her. She begins to drink in a way that is an obvious cry for help to June, who doesn't know how to respond as she deals with her own fairly grown-up issues with Toby.
Brunt also weaves a beautiful tale of a family coming to grips with the reality of AIDS in a time when no one in the world really understands the disease. The fear of catching the disease, but no one really knowing how it was transmitted, is palpable. As this twines through the story of love, it adds depth to the heartache and jealousy the characters are dealing with.
I liked this book very much after finishing it, but liked it even more as I thought back at the way Brunt crafted the tale so expertly. Be prepared to shed tears as you are drawn in to the world of June Elbus. I would recommend this book to mature, older teens and adults. However, I do think it would be helpful for the reader to have an understanding of what the environment surrounding the AIDS epidemic in the late 1980s was like, or much of the story will be lost. I also think this is a novel that both men and women can really get into, even though the main character is a young girl.
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