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.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Shop Talk: Writing Resources

For the past year, I've been half-assedly trying to write a novel. I know my characters (for the most part, at least – I'm sure they'll reveal more of themselves to me as time goes on), and I have a very vague, general sense of what happens and how my main character grows. I have 7,000+ words saved in a file named "DRAFT 5," and I think I might scrap 6,500 of them.

So I'm reworking some things, while also keeping in mind that, as Terry Pratchett says, "The first draft is just you telling yourself the story." I thought I might put together a master post of links and resources that I'm personally finding helpful in structuring a plot and "long-distance writing." Maybe this will inspire others to make progress (or get back to work) on their original story...

Resources for creating a compelling character
What do YOU want to see in YA? A 4-page long discussion on the NaNoWriMo forums.
Relationships that I Want to See More of in Fiction. Because love doesn't have to be the end-all fix for everything.
Boys I Want to See in YA. Resist the temptation to write a swoony bad boy!
Characters don't have to be likable. They just have to be compelling. Interesting advice from Courtney Summers.
What motivates your characters? Get inspired with these questions.
Character Flaws. All characters need 'em. Here's a short list of ideas.

Resources for developing a well-crafted story
Outlining Your Novel (with some useful links, including a 30-min exercise from Alicia Rasley).
Seven Extremely Good Reasons to Write the Ending First. Know where you're going!
Tips for writing a good ending. More advice from Amanda Patterson.
Major Writing Errors: How to Fix Them. Avoid happy beginnings, stories without fear, and loaded dialogue.
10 Storytelling Elements. For those of us who can't remember what a story actually and technically is.
Camp NaNoWriMo: How to Make Sure Your Plot is Compelling. Advice from Drusilla Campbell.
What to do when you've lost your motivation. First, don't feel bad. Next, figure out why you've lost your muse.
I have characters but no plot! A selection of helpful links to build out your plot.

Besides forcing myself to be more thoughtful about what makes for a good book, one of the reasons I started this blog was so that I could interact with other writers and learn how to strengthen my own writing skills. It's encouraging to know that the things I struggle with are fairly prevalent and that there is never just one right answer when it comes to writing. We all seem to be in this universal exploration of words and characters and places and themes, trying to figure out how to craft something that hits home.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Characters Who Would Be Sitting at My Lunch Table

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

In high school, I rarely ate in the cafeteria if I could help it. I was a big fan of sneaking out during lunch so that I could (a) hide out in the library with all my nerd friends who didn't share the same lunch period as me, or (b) hide out in the art room with all my art friends who hated the cafeteria ecosystem. So the concept of "the lunch table" is a little bit lost on me.

Here are ten characters that would make for the greatest lunch crew ever though:


Lucy from Graffiti Moon. To remind me of all the fun, sassy, weird art kids I used to eat with, and the fun, sassy, weird conversations we used to have.

Lara Jean from To All the Boys I've Loved Before. For discussions about our boy obsessions and to analyze every little thing that so-and-so said or did today... Because what is lunch for, if not girl talk?

Stargirl from Stargirl. I loved Stargirl as a teenager. I wanted to be friends with her. She was so weird yet comfortable in her skin, and she was supremely generous. She also had the strangest hobbies and interests, which I'm sure we would share if we were lunch buddies. (We'd collaborate on our anonymous card-making operative and make up stories about strangers and figure out the perfect gifts to give to the people we love.)


Francesca Spinelli from Saving Francesca. There's always that one person who has a little extra pinch of attitude. She calls us out when we're being stupid about our problems and tells it like it is.

Mindy Kaling from Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Okay, so I know this totally shouldn't count because Mindy Kaling isn't a character so much as a real person. But she is a protagonist in a book (who cares if she wrote it?). I just want to be friends with her, okay?? LET ME HAVE THIS.

Anna from Anna and the French Kiss. To talk about our wanderlust and Paris and what we'll do and where we'll go when we're out of school. We'll eat pain au chocolat and baguettes and cheese for lunch and call it a well-rounded meal.

Kenji from the Shatter Me series. For the lulz. Every lunch table needs a comedian.


Raffy from On the Jellicoe Road. Because somehow you just know she'd be packing the best lunches. And she seems like the type to share.

Noah Czerny from the Raven Cycle series. For the days you don't feel like talking – it's always nice to have someone who will sit with you in comfortable silence, and I think Noah would definitely be one of those people.

Dexter from This Lullaby. I have no idea what we would ever talk about, but I'm sure he'd keep the conversation flowing (and ridiculous). Also, he has great chemistry with Remy, who is one of those book characters that reminds me of myself, so I think Dexter and I would get on quite well.

(I love reading these, so feel free to link me to your Top Ten Tuesday post down in the comments!)