I had been hearing a lot about Tell the Wolves I'm Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt, on fellow readers' blogs--it kept cropping up on "Best of" lists so I put my name down for the audio book at the library and finished it last week.
Here's the Amazon blurb:
In Tell the Wolves I’m Home, Carol Rifka Brunt has made a singular portrait of the late-‘80s AIDS epidemic’s transformation of a girl and her family. But beyond that, she tells a universal story of how love chooses us, and how flashes of our beloved live through us even after they’re gone. Before her Uncle Finn died of an illness people don’t want to talk about, 14-year-old June Elbus thought she was the center of his world. A famous and reclusive painter, Finn made her feel uniquely understood, privy to secret knowledge like how to really hear Mozart’s Requiem or see the shape of negative space. When he’s gone, she discovers he had a bigger secret: his longtime partner Toby, the only other person who misses him as much as she does. Her clandestine friendship with Toby—who her parents blame for Finn’s illness—sharpens tensions with her sister, Greta, until their bond seems to exist only in the portrait Finn painted of them. With wry compassion, Brunt portrays the bitter lengths to which we will go to hide our soft underbellies, and how summoning the courage to be vulnerable is the only way to see through to each other’s hungry, golden souls.I have to say, I agree with just about all of the lavish praise for this book. The narrator is honest with a strong but sensitive voice. It's a wonderful coming-of-age story, and I really appreciated how June, the 14-year-old first person narrator, grew in the course of the book as she faced not only the incredible loss of her beloved uncle to AIDS, but also came to understand her sister and parents in a way that was realistic and very moving. Brunt did a great job in getting inside the head of a self-conscious 14-year old girl and telling her story with the right amount of tension.
There was a lot to like about this book...
- June's sister Greta has the lead in their high school's production of South Pacific--June grapples with the prejudices that surface within her own family against the backdrop of the prejudices exhibited by Nelly Flatbush and Lieutenant Joe Cable in the musical.
- June and her family live a short train ride from Manhattan, while Uncle Finn and Toby live in the city; June visits both in the course of the novel, and I loved hearing about where they go...The Cloisters, Serendipity 3, Horn & Hardart automat, Grand Central Station, etc.
- The 1980's - the story takes place in 1987 so it was nostalgic for me to hear about the music, the clothes, the issues of the day. Even Dungeons and Dragons surfaced as a thing! Brunt did a good job in recreating the social climate of the time, creating a detailed, recognizable world.
- Wolves--they show up only in the shadows: the title, the negative space in the portrait Finn paints of his nieces, howling in the woods--they represent the dark side of the human psyche. They're seen obliquely but are never really out of the picture.
My thanks go out to all those bloggers who featured this book on the sites--it's not a book I might've found on my own but it is definitely worth the reading.