Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt (5 out of 5)
I have no idea how this one got by me last year. Maybe because we never really got many copies in? Not the case with the paperback, thankfully. At a loss after reading some real depressing crap this week, I figured, well, why not? I’m glad I did.
The book begins with the death of Finn, a celebrated artist who passes away from AIDS, in 1987, a time when that word brought fear, loathing, and outright hatred from some. Finn’s niece and goddaughter June is heartbroken; his other niece Greta, not so much. Their mother is torn between heartbreak and loathing toward Toby, Finn’s partner, whom she blames for his death. You have a whole handbasket of emotions present here. But that’s only part of the tapestry woven.
This is truly a story of June. You relive her close relationship with her uncle and all of the great times, and the bad. You see how she’s struggling in the shadow of her popular social butterfly sister Greta. You see how she quietly comes to terms with Finn’s death. When she sees Toby at the funeral and she’s told that he “killed Finn”, you know that he’s going to play some part in this girl’s coming of age and grieving process. Soon after, June receives, hand-delivered by Toby in disguise, a teapot that Finn owned and wanted her to have. She then begins to get letters and keepsakes of Finn’s, including money he wanted her to have. Before long, Toby requests a meeting with June, and they bond and begin to meet secretly. June sees this as an opportunity to not only get to know this man that her uncle loved dearly, but to learn more about Finn. It’s a wonderful relationship these two build, and it’s the cornerstone of the novel.
Another major turning point is Greta, June’s older sister. Greta’s a popular girl in school, and has all of the invites to teen parties to prove it. For reasons that aren’t real clear until close to the end of the book, Greta seems to really despise her uncle Finn. There are catty comments made not only about Finn and Toby, but also AIDS. This is reminiscent of emotions, discrimination, and misunderstanding that the relatively unknown battlefield that was AIDS in the 1980’s brought forth in our society at that time. Having lost an uncle to AIDS, I found this part of the book remarkably capable of reliving that history. You feel as if Greta is threatened by the intense bond that Finn and June share, and this is some form of acting out. While there is a little bit of that, there’s also more than meets the eye with Greta. Once that slow and steady reveal is brought out into the open and shit gets wiggy, you realize that the character of Greta is not only misunderstood, but that her teen hormones are cutting a path of destruction through her sister’s life. You also realize that much of Greta’s actions are brought on by loneliness, and a feeling that she lost her best friend- her sister- when June and Finn became so close. That packs a hell of a punch as well, the resolution of Greta’s malevolence.
There isn’t a weak pebble in this rock solid story. Carol Rifka Brunt’s debut is a shining star. I wish I had given it a shot last year, but I’m glad I didn’t miss it this year in paperback. I hope I can get as many people on board with this title as I am. I can’t wait to sell the crap out of it. It is ridiculously heartwarming, addictive reading from a great young heroine who’s dealing in heartbreak for the first time in her life, and trying to find a stable moor in the harbor. It will make an excellent book club pick.