Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
*Thanks to Edelweis and Random House for a copy of this book*
Rating: 5 stars/Grade A+
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. So when he dies far too young of a mysterious illness that her mother can barely bring herself to discuss, June’s world is turned upside down. At the funeral, she notices a strange man lingering just beyond the edges of the crowd, and a few days later, June receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn’s apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, inviting her to meet up with him at a local train station. As it turns out, June isn’t the only one who desperately misses Finn, and the unlikely friendship that springs up between these two lost souls will break your heart, even as it heals theirs.
I am not a reader that willing walks into a tear jerker or an emotionally evocative book knowingly. Why? I am silly sensitive person that gets completely enmeshed in the world created by writers and I can’t let go of that world once I am in it. I walked into Tell The Wolves I’m Home understanding that it was a powerful book dealing with death and grief, but I was not prepared for how it would affect me. The thing I forget about books that make me cry are that those books, when done right and written by talented authors, also make me hope. Tell the Wolves I’m Home left me with hope and filled with a feeling of love for those close to me.
Perhaps having grown up during the 1980s and remembering the scare of AIDS during that time period as well, brought the book much closer to my heart. Ms. Rifka Brunt writes about the late 1980s as if it was now, not that she misses the ambience and the cultural differences but what I mean, is that she writes about the 1980s without exaggeration and too much nostalgia. The 1980s just are in Tell the Wolves I’m Home, the era gives further depth to the story but the era itself is not raised to a heightened level.
At the center of the story is a young girl June, who ranges in age from 12 to 14 in the book, that is an odd ball. Like many teens she feels awkward in her body and socially awkward in her high school. She prefers to run to the woods beyond her house and pretend and imagine. Through her play she transports herself back to the medieval period and becomes someone new. Brunt writes so well that beautiful time when we could so easily trick our minds we were somewhere else and the transition to when we can no longer do this because we know the real world too well.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home dances around the themes of sibling relationships between adults (June’s mom and her uncle) and during the process of growing up (June’s relationship with her older sister Greta). Anyone with siblings knows that these relationships can be wonderful and rewarding, but may be really challenging and hurtful. Along the path of these relationships, life happens and can alter how siblings treat each other for life. Can siblings change? Will they remain close? Tell the Wolves I’m Home opens the relationships up for the readers to see. June’s relationship with her sister Greta drove me to tears more than once, man Brunt captured the pain sisters can cause each other. She wrote perfectly, the pain and jealousy the feel not only for each other but because they miss how they were as children.
Not to be forgotten, are themes of ostracization and fear. AIDS was relatively new in the late 1980s and the fear was ripe — so was the embarrassment of association. Sometimes it takes the heart and naiveté of a child to over come that fear and reach out to those that need it.
This book has everything and just needs to be read. I can be a skimmer, but I did not skim one word in Tell the Wolves I’m Home, rather I would reverse and re-read passages again and again. It is an amazing first novel by a brilliant author that I will be watching and waiting for her next effort.
I highly recommend this book.
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