Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Review: Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Title: Tell the Wolves I'm Home
Author: Carol Rifka Brunt
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: June 19, 2012
Rating: ★★★★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

1987. There's only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that's her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn's company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June's world is turned upside down. But Finn's death brings a surprise acquaintance into June's life – someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home was one of the best books I read this summer. As soon as I got to the last page, I took a deep breath to process and then immediately added it to my list of books to buy because it's something I want to come back to, again and again in the years to come. The characters in this story are well-written, but it's their interactions that really steal the show.

At its core, Tell the Wolves I'm Home explores family relationships and the way those relationships shift in complex circumstances. We delve into the love between two sisters, fraught as it may be with jealousy and rivalry and, beneath it all, a yearning for recognition and acceptance. We look at different kinds of romantic love, each taboo in its own way but no less profound – after all, the heart loves what it loves.

Toby was right. Finn was my first love. But Toby, he was my second. And the sadness in that stretched like a thin cold river down the length of my whole life.

Carol Rifka Brunt has an effortless way of writing that tethers your soul to her words but still leaves you floating through the pages. In her novel she explores so many aspects of humanity and makes you feel each emotion acutely. There are moments of loss, regret, joy, disappointment, wonder, fear, shame, frustration, fondness, hope.

Set in the 1980s, the story may at times feel distant – younger readers may not truly register the significance of being gay in the 80s or the impact of AIDS at the time. However, the author recreates a world that remains completely accessible, despite having occurred some 30 years ago. It's not a world of niche 80s cliches or trendy pop culture references. Without overshadowing, the setting provides a necessary and meaningful context for the events that happen.

"What’s the one superpower of June Elbus?"

I thought about myself from head to toe. It was like being forced to read the most boring part of the Sears catalog. Like leafing through the bathroom accessories pages. Boring brain. Boring face. No sex appeal. Clumsy hands.

"Heart. Hard heart," I said, not sure where it came from. "The hardest heart in the world."

"Hmmm," Toby said, tapping a finger in the air. "That’s a useful one, you know. Very handy. The question is..." Toby paused like he was considering this all very seriously.

"What’s the question?"

"The question is, stone or ice? Crack or melt?"

Tell the Wolves I'm Home is a poignant and profound story. Because it is based on sad truths and the disappointing reality of ignorance in the 1980s, it transforms into a tale that moves you without ever making you feel manipulated. It has a strength of its own. It's a story in which the good and the bad merge and become the same. One can't exist without the other, and you have to wonder if maybe it's better to take the bad-awful-terrible-tragic things in life, if they lead to something that is beautiful in the end.

1 comment:

  1. What a great review! I have been wanting to read this. Your reviews are a pleasure!