Tell the Wolves I’m Home is the first-person narrative of June Elbus, a shy and standoffish fourteen-year-old living in late 1980s New York City suburbs. She idolizes her Uncle Finn, whom is her only friend and confidant, and she is completely crushed when he dies of AIDS, a still unknown disease at that point save the damning stigma to the gay community. She feels completely alone in the world until she meets Toby, a friend of Finn who shared a similar closeness and bond. As June and Toby’s friendship blossoms, she uncovers secrets about Finn’s past and relationship with her mother (his sister), and along the way creates secrets of her own.
Finn was a famous painter, and the title of the novel refers to the title of the last portrait he painted of June and her older sister Quinn. The sisters’ relationship has been strained for several years, and Finn’s death exacerbates the hard-feelings as June rejects Quinn’s attempts at bonding. I’ll discuss this further below in the *spoiler* portion of my review.
Brunt’s writing is incredibly beautiful. I was able to fully imagine every part of this book from her descriptions of places and emotions and events. Those descriptions also brought the emotions full-frontal, so I frequently had to take breaks from the book because it was depressing.
As for the frustrating part of my review title: while this is not a YA novel, it is written from the POV of a teenager, so that comes with all the frustrations of teenagers being dense and naive and unreliable narrators. I don’t seem to be into coming of age stories too much, and maybe the only parts of June’s enlightenment that I did enjoy were the times she struggled to figure out if she had actually been in love with her uncle and just denying it because she knew that was wrong and also not going to lead anywhere since he was gay.
Her sister’s projection frustrated me way more, (*SPOILERS*) mostly because I was disappointed by the fact that her ever-increasing antics were purely to get her sister’s attention. There was a tease that the drama teacher might be molesting her, and I was weirdly disappointed that that wasn’t the case. It would make more sense than a popular girl feeling disconnected from her sister. I think Quinn was obviously written as immature since she was a year ahead in school and trying to keep up appearances that she wasn’t younger than her classmates, which is stressful, but I was kind of shocked that she wanted to go straight to college as opposed to wanting to do a year on Broadway to catch up with people her age. While I know she just wanted to start over, I don’t know how going to Dartmouth a year younger than everyone else would not relieve pressure.
(*MORE SPOILERS*) I was also highly frustrated (right along with June) that the only thing keeping Toby and June together as friends was Finn’s insistence they look out for each other. I hated how disingenuous it made Toby for the rest of the book, especially when June was suspicious right along with me.
Maybe this means the book was way better than I’m letting on, but it still just made me feel disappointed in the end. I had become very invested in the characters and felt let down by the ending. That was the general feedback of the rest of my book club, so maybe that’s what the author was going for? It was her debut, so maybe I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and check out something else by her in the future.