review: ‘Tell the Wolves I’m Home’ by Carol Rifka Brunt

5 stars

This book came out of nowhere for me. I remember reading the synopsis ages ago and thinking it was a bit different to anything I’d read before, and that I’d probably like it. Then a copy was donated for sale at my library and I thought *it must be fate*, and bought it.

I don’t think I’ve ever cried at a book before, but that’s the position I found myself in this morning. Under a huge quilt, sick, crying my eyes out as I turned over the last few pages. Being sick probably didn’t help my emotional state, but still I think the book should get all the credit.

The book centers around a girl, June, who loses her uncle to AIDS. It’s later revealed, after the uncle’s death, that he had a boyfriend who he had been with for ages, Toby, who she has never known about. Not only that, but her mother and sister, Greta, call Toby a murder, that he gave AIDS to Uncle Finn and that he’s a terrible person. June is more hurt however that she never knew about Toby, as she believed Finn and her to be so close (some may think a little too close, her mother and sister certainly think so), and can’t comprehend the fact that she was not privy to such a huge part of his life. From this point, Toby and June strike up an unlikely (and secret) friendship, where they are able to bond through their shared love for Finn and their grief.

As the novel is written through June’s perspective, I felt the somewhat taboo subjects of AIDS and homosexuality were dealt with in a very tender way (the novel is set in the 1980’s in and around New York). For June, her main concern is that she’s lost her greatest friend. As a reader, although I understand the severity of AIDS and think it was approached tentatively, it was also discussed in a  very matter-of-fact way. June is almost telling the reader ‘So what?’ – that’s not the most important thing here.

‘Tell the Wolves I’m Home’ is actually the title of a portrait that Finn paints of June and her sister Greta. He is an incredibly talented well-known artist, but has stepped out of the spotlight as his health progressively declines. I felt that the title of the novel is apt in many other ways. June spends a lot of time in the woods, pretending she is a girl in another time, and often hears what she thinks are wolves howling. I can’t express why else, without going into too much more detail and revealing more spoilers, but I really love the title of this novel.

June was a very likeable character. She just felt special. I felt for her an awful lot throughout the novel, and really enjoyed seeing her evolve and grow as a person, and seeing her relationship with Toby unfold. I noticed that the chapters in which June is with Toby are considerably longer than the other chapters in the novel. I can’t help but feel like this was on purpose – to signify that life was almost passing June by when she was not with Toby. She needed this friendship, as nobody else could quite understand her connection to Finn and the huge hole she was left with after his death.

Very early on in the novel it’s clear that June’s affection went a little beyond what a niece should feel for her uncle. Put simply, she was in love with him. The way that love and relationships are approached in this novel is so refreshing to me. The relationships between the central characters are so complex and genuine that you can’t help but feel there’s anything wrong about any of it. I don’t have a sister but I also really liked the way June and her sister Greta’s strained relationship was portrayed, and felt for both parties. This read was just so genuine.

The ending was bittersweet, I was so eager to get to the end of the novel, but very sad to finish it. It tied up everything that I felt needed to be said, whilst giving the reader a hopeful and open ended future for June. I was truly blown away by this story and the emotion in Carol’s writing. I strongly recommend everyone to read this novel, even If you feel it’s not something you will enjoy, I can guarantee you will take something from it. I’ll be recommending this read to anyone who will listen to me, and I’m declaring it a favourite! I can’t wait to read anything and everything she publishes next.

sign off heartJess

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