Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Published by Random House
Publication date: June 19, 2012
Genres: Book Clubs, Coming-of-age, Debut, Fiction, Literary
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You could try and believe what you wanted, but it never worked. Your brain and your heart decided what you were going to believe and that was that.
June is a bit of a loner who feels safer in the woods than she does around people. She’s never had friends her own age, but what she did have was an uncle she adored, who lived in NYC and understood her better than anyone else. Finn was an artist and with him June could be herself. But now he’s dead. It’s 1986 and he had AIDS—a disease about which little is known that carries a huge stigma. She’s alone in her grief in the tender, tangled debut novel, Tell the Wolves I’m Home.
At fourteen, June is quiet and uncertain with a rich inner life. Finn is the only person she feels close to. He appreciates her imagination and her desire to live in Medieval times. Their relationship is so close she believes it is unique and that he doesn’t love anyone as much as he loves her. After his death she learns about his “special friend”, a man named Toby, hated by her mother for supposedly killing him. Suddenly her grief is tainted by the knowledge that there may have been someone who knew her uncle better than she did and, worse, who he loved more than he loved her. It’s enough to crack the fragile shell of June’s emotional stability.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home is poignant for its understanding of the emotions evoked at that most difficult stage of life—the shades of love. We’re all aware of the love very little girls have for their fathers, but Brunt takes that to the next level and gives us the lonely June whose love for her uncle is exposed as childish when she meets his partner, Toby. A mutual grieving society where the two great loves of one person’s life both bolster and oppose each other. For June there is the recognition that she is a child and even if not, as a female and a relative she was not someone her uncle would love in that way. For this, she hates Toby.
I watched him sitting there with cards up his sleeve. Decks and decks of surprise cards he could slide out whenever he wanted to. Stories of him and Finn I’d never heard. Not like me. My deck was thin. Worn out from shuffling over and over in my head.
What June cannot see, but that Brunt shows readers is that in his own way, Toby is just as pitiable in his grief.
Without Finn, Toby was like a kite with nobody holding the string.
Toby isn’t the only character brought to life by author Carol Brunt’s incandescent prose. There is June’s mother, Finn’s sister, who although an accountant now, was once considered as talented as Finn. Or one of the least likable characters I’ve ever read: Greta, June’s older sister. Talented at everything and headed off to college a year early, she is viciously horrible to June, making me glad I never had a sister. But here again, Brunt peels the gilt off Greta to reveal a broken frame.
Brunt’s ability to use words to their strongest advantage is one of my favorite parts of Tell the Wolves I’m Home and largely why I recently reread it. It’s a novel that shows where pain, loneliness, and need can lead. Not in any overly dramatic way, but with a raw quietude that lingers.
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