Okay, wow. Wasn’t a good idea to finish this while sitting in a cafe. People think I’m barking. I’m not going to go in depth on this one for two reasons: a) If I were to do that I would spoil the hell out of anyone reading this, and b) the emotions are a little too raw for me to even want to. This book affected me.
To sum it up (very) briefly, Tell the Wolves I’m Home is about June Elbus, a fourteen year-old girl who’s just lost her Uncle Finn to AIDS. It’s 1987, and all that implies. But Finn wasn’t just her uncle. He was her godfather, and her best friend in the world.
June is a bit of an oddball. She is tall for her age and constantly feels physically out of place with kids her own age, but more what makes her an outcast are her interests. She’d rather spend time in the woods behind the school, wearing her special medieval boots Finn gave her and pretending to be from another time than do whatever it is other kids do. She spends most of her free time with Finn, eating at fancy restaurants, visiting museums, and going to the Cloisters (their special place). So when Finn dies, it affects her more than it does her family. She lets it affect her more. And then her uncle’s partner, Toby, shows up, and June has to deal with keeping that a secret. Her family dislikes Toby vehemently, viewing him among other things as her uncle’s murderer. But Toby and June strike up a friendship, and June has to face the possibility of once again losing her only friend to AIDS. There’s also a whole plot involving a portrait (also titled “Tell the Wolves I’m Home”) Finn was painting of her June and her sister Greta. Finn is a world-famous artist, and his death (and the portrait being the last thing he ever painted) brings a level of scrutiny to the Elbus household that only heightens their grief.
See, I’m doing a piss poor job of explaining this. I’m making it sound dumb. Ugh. Just read the damn book.
Carol Rifka Brunt is good at words. Her characters were so real to me I kept getting angry and upset at things they were doing on their behalf. And it’s only marginally about AIDS. The real focus of the book is June and her family, and the fragility of the relationship between siblings. I don’t normally read literary fiction much anymore, mostly because I think it takes itself too seriously, and I can’t stand things that are pompous like that. But this book is not pompous. It’s tiny and perfect and moving and real. I liked it a lot.