The Best Book I’ve Read All Year – Tell the Wolves I’m Home

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.

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19 thoughts on “The Best Book I’ve Read All Year – Tell the Wolves I’m Home

  1. This is the first book I am reading on my new Kindle Fire and so the whole experience is “brilliant” as Toby might say. Yes, you are right Alena, that it captures a time, a minute, when AIDS was still whispered, was untreatable, was a certain death sentence and so, made life absolutely urgent. Combined with the turmoil of teen age life and all of it’s inherent drama, the story is gripping and commands attention. I know I will carry with me the gold strands added to the her hair in the portrait, the black buttons, the skull tattoo and the gold fingernails, all attempts to “fix” what can never be fixed. But what really resonates is June’s recognition of the many kinds of love, including the “falling” kind and the pain when the “falling kind” happens with the wrong person.

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      • I’m sure it IS brilliant – but I am interested in reading comments from folks who were not so intimately involved with the early AIDS crisis. How does it impact them? I am certain that a lot of my ability to put my arms around these characters came from my own personal experience…true, the human aspects of family and love and coming of age, feeling like an outcast, etc, are all universal, but still…..

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      • I know what you mean. That’s why I was up front about the specific reason I gave 5 stars. But, if Goodreads is any inidication, it’s working for people across the spectrum.

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  2. I’ve read a few reviews of this book, all giving it such high praise. It really does look like a great read, and I need to remember to request it from the library soon! Very nice review 🙂

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      • I think it has to grow on me. I was still pretty upset about the summation of Greta’s character by the end. I really loved the characterization in the book though, I was just wondering why it took 360 pages to get through everything that happened. Sometimes, it’s harder to connect to books that ride solely on emotional journeys rather than having much fast-moving plot. I think I wanted it to be faster and I wanted the wolves thing played up a bit more. Honestly, I don’t know what I want, but I love you too!!!!!

        I need to read your blog again and see if it changes my perspective now that I’ve read the book.

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  5. Now that I read your blog over again, I wonder if it’s that I’m caught up in the age of things. I wasn’t born until 1988 and while AIDS still has ridiculous stigma’s attached to it today, I wasn’t alive during the time when it was really this “unknown” idea of an awful disease. I just wonder if that has something to do with it. Either way, I definitely respect your reading opinion and experience every time. You’re one of the top on my list of book recommenders. I always will try something you say is great. : )

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    • Thanks for the re-read on the review. I do think my age and personal connection to the crisis put me immediately into Greta’s shoes. And, I know that I am attracted to books that unfold emotionally and slowly.
      But, like you, I have a few people whose recommendations will be enough for me to try a book. Thanks for being one of those people.

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