Recently I read Tell the Wolves I’m Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt, and…
… here is what I thought.
First, the summary from Goodreads:
1987. 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. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life—someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.
At Finn’s funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn’s apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she’s not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most.
An emotionally charged coming-of-age novel, Tell the Wolves I’m Home is a tender story of love lost and found, an unforgettable portrait of the way compassion can make us whole again.
So this was quite intriguing. Did I like it? Yes. Did I love it, as some people promised me I would? Not quite.
1. The writing As with all books worth reading, the prose was gorgeous. The descriptions, the internal monologue, everything:
The sun kept on with its slipping away, and I thought how many small good things in the world might be resting on the shoulders of something terrible.
2. How incredibly relatable June’s shyness is:
That’s what being shy feels like. Like my skin is too thin, the light too bright. Like the best place I could possibly be is in a tunnel far under the cool, dark earth. Someone asks me a question and I stare at them, empty-faced, my brain jammed up with how hard I’m trying to find something interesting to say. And in the end, all I can do is nod or shrug, because the light of their eyes looking at me, waiting for me, is just too much to take. And then it’s over and there’s one more person in the world who thinks I’m a complete and total waste of space.
The worst thing is the stupid hopefulness. Every new party, every new bunch of people, and I start thinking that maybe this is my chance. That I’m going to be normal this time. A new leaf. A fresh start. But then I find myself at the party, thinking, Oh, yeah. This again.
So I stand on the edge of things, crossing my fingers, praying nobody will try to look me in the eye. And the good thing is, they usually don’t.
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. This is fifteen-year-old me to a T.
3. The depiction of AIDS I confess that pretty much 100% of my knowledge of AIDS when I was a teenager came from RENT. Which is a wonderful play, don’t get me wrong, but as musicals tend to do, it romanticized something that was not a romantic thing. Also, RENT came out in 1996, after more was known about the disease; this book, which takes place in the eighties, treats it very differently. Is it accurate? I was far too young at the time to know personally, but from what I’ve read, this book really does do it justice.
4. The familial relationships There’s some fascinating stuff in here about relationships between siblings, both June and her sister Greta and June and Greta’s mom and her brother Finn. There’s also the mother-daughter relationships, and the way the two sisters play off each other for their parents, especially their mother.
My mother gave me a disappointed look. Then I gave her one back. Mine was for everything, not just the sandwich.
5. The friendship between June and Toby I love relationships that are weird and murky. Family relationships and romantic relationships are pretty well-trodden territory; a relationship between a young teenage girl and an adult gay man/widower is not. I loved the way the dynamic played out between June and Toby; it was one of the main things that kept me turning pages.
6. The haunting truth of its sentences:
It seemed like life was a sort of narrowing tunnel. Right when you were born, the tunnel was huge. You could be anything. Then, like, the absolute second after you were born, the tunnel narrowed down to about half that size. You were a boy, and already it was certain you wouldn’t be a mother and it was likely you wouldn’t become a manicurist or a kindergarten teacher. Then you started to grow up and everything you did closed the tunnel in some more. You broke your arm climbing a tree and you ruled out being a baseball pitcher. You failed every math test you ever took and you canceled any hope of being a scientist. Like that. On and on through the years until you were stuck. You’d become a baker or a librarian or a bartender. Or an accountant. And there you were. I figured that on the day you died, the tunnel would be so narrow, you’d have squeezed yourself in with so many choices, that you just got squashed.
The Less Good:
Honestly, there wasn’t a whole ton that I can categorically label as “not good” in this book. So what kept me from loving it?
I think it’s just this: June as a narrator made me a little uncomfortable. And it wasn’t even the vaguely incest-y way she felt about her uncle–I read that as more a hero-worship, little-kid crush on top of familial/friendship love than any kind of sexual thing. I think it was just how solemn she is, and the inevitable melancholiness that permeated this entire story. Was her perspective interesting? Endlessly. Did I like spending that much time in her head? Not particularly.
I struggle with a rating for this one. By all accounts, it should be at least a 9/10 book, but the fact that I just didn’t fall in love with it makes it a 7/10 for me.
Have you read it? What did you think? Let’s discuss!