Posted by Zoe Dartley
I may be bias in regards to Tell the Wolves I'm Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt, because-confession-coming of age books are a weakness of mine, especially when they're narrated by quirky-bordering-on-weird girls. (Am I giving too much away about my own adolescence?) Honestly, though, this book is truly special.
The year is 1987, and fourteen-year-old June Elbus is struggling with growing up in the shadow of her vivacious older sister, Greta. June is shy at school and can't seem to relate to her peers. Rather than socialize or star in plays like Greta, she would rather escape to the woods and pretend to be a medieval huntress. While her mother and father are caring and sympathetic, June finds the ultimate companion in her uncle, renowned painter Finn Weiss.
June's world is shaken at its core when Finn mysteriously dies of an illness her mother won't speak to June about. Stricken with AIDS, Finn leaves behind his devoted partner, Toby. June begins to receive mysterious packages containing sentimental memorabilia, trinkets from her relationship with Finn. This correspondence leads her to reach out to Toby, and the two develop a unique bond in order to help one another heal.
While the beating heart of the story lies in the relationship between June and Toby, it is woven with the intricacies of family heartbreak: June and her sister fail to connect with one other despite each of their desperate attempts to communicate, while June's mother grapples with her grief over the loss of her brother. The dynamic between the Elbus family becomes turbulent and complicated as each member tries to suppress their emotions. Of course, this increases the tension as it finally amounts to a boiling point.
Brunt expertly juggles the difficult task of poignantly narrating the inner-lives of each character while also flawlessly depicting the turbulent period of the late eighties, especially for gay victims of AIDS and their families. She articulates the devastation and confusion of the epidemic with brilliant sensitivity. The mystery that AIDS was at the time parallels the novel's own mystery, which occurs when Finn's last piece of art before his death - a portrait of June and her sister - begins to be vandalized, despite the fact that it is locked in a vault. This mystery haunts the story, adding an eerie page-turning effect to the already turbulent novel.
June is one of the most sympathetic characters that I have ever encountered- racked with grief larger than herself, she is drawn to but also jealous of Toby, who was kept secret from her and her family. As the two grow closer, June must confront her feelings for her deceased uncle: was she herself in love with him? Despite her quirks, June is also a fourteen-year-old girl, and she pines for the intense connection that her uncle and Toby had, as she tries to understand the frightening illness that riddled both of them.
While "Tell the Wolves I'm Home" juggles many themes, it is, above all, a story about love. Through masterful and emotional prose, the novel articulates the different types of love that humans are capable of, and how dazzling they can be.