How can I explain the way this beautiful novel touched my heart? I was almost afraid to read it after hearing several friends and fellow-readers tell me I just “had to” read this because it’s “just my kind of book.” Well, they were all right.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home is everything I love in a book – a thoughtful, socially awkward young narrator coming of age at a particularly dramatic historical moment. June Elbus is 14 years-old in 1986 when her beloved uncle dies of AIDS. Obsessed with medieval culture, June is caught between childish games of imagination and the harsh realities of death, fear and discrimination. Struggling with the love-hate relationship between herself and her 16 year-old talented and popular sister, feeling orphaned by her busy-at-work parents and full of teenage self-loathing, she still comes across as tender and sympathetic.
After her Uncle Finn’s death, June tries to make all of these pieces fit together. Left with only a portrait he painted, she cautiously accepts the friendship of Finn’s lover, Toby, a man her mother calls, “Murderer.” In Toby, June hopes to reconnect to Finn, to figure out what their relationship was and to understand the snatches of conversation and missing pieces of her family’s relationships.
What he’d said didn’t really make sense, but there was a tiny flicker of something I felt like I was almost catching. Just for a second it felt like I understood, and then it evaporated again.
That feeling of almost understanding permeates much of this novel, leaving me eager to always turn the next page. IN the way of a young girl, the chapters are short, breaking up June’s life from one moment to the next, but the sense of longing, the desire for everything to make sense, lies under the action, holding the book together tightly.
I knew the way lost hopes could be dangerous, how they could turn a person into someone they never thought they’d be.
All of these factors would easily have led to a 4-star book. What pushes this to 5-stars is the fact that I thought Carol Rifka Brunt might have been writing my life. I was the same age in 1986, and while my AIDS inflicted “uncles” weren’t related by blood, they were artists who showered me with love and acceptance that I didn’t find anywhere else. I remember vividly the agony of being caught between childhood and adult concerns and my desire for the “magic” explanation.
I could go on and on about the brilliant layers of guilt, fear and discovery to be found in this novel, but I’ll stop here and simply savor the feeling of never wanting it to end.
- Book recommendations – September and October 2012 (stitchywitch.wordpress.com)
- “Tell The Wolves I’m Home” by Carol Rifka Brunt (is my Book Girlfriend) (booksaremyboyfriends.wordpress.com)