by Carol Rifka Brunt
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt is a book about love, loss and family during the early onset of the AIDS epidemic in 1987. June Elbus is the fourteen-year-old narrator who adores her uncle and godfather, Finn Weiss. Finn, in addition to being June’s favorite person in the world, is a world-renowned painter who is dying of AIDS. His last great painting is a portrait of June and her sister Greta, a project designed to allow his family to spend time together before his death.
Greta is a talented singer who used to be very close with her younger sister June, but recently their relationship has become fractured and strained. At first, Greta appears to be the stereotypical bratty and one-dimensional Golden Child character adored by all, but we eventually learn that Greta has demons of her own. Having a sister and understanding the sometimes love-hate nature of sisterly relationships, I felt their relationship rang true. I know not everyone agrees with this. Consider yourself lucky if you have a sister and cannot relate to Greta and June in any way.
Their portrait, Finn’s last known work, is considered very valuable once it has been discovered. What transpires next is central to the plot, so I won’t go into details. But I will say that everyone manages to communicate through this painting, and the concept of negative space is introduced. Negative space is the space between the subjects, and a key element of good artistic composition. Sometimes the most interesting things are revealed in the space in between.
After Finn’s death, June befriends his long-time partner, Toby, who has been kept a secret from June. Toby and Finn’s life is was rich and full, but not something Finn could share with his beloved niece due to the anti-gay mindset of the times. Negative space, so to speak. Having grown up in the 1980s, it’s really jarring to recall those days when people understood so little about HIV and AIDS, and when it meant an automatic death sentence. It is a reminder of how far our society has come, both in science and in tolerance and acceptance of the LGBT community.
The relationship between Toby and June evolves from something initially fraught with mistrust and jealousy (June’s) to a real understanding, mutual respect and love. It is a beautiful relationship and just what Finn had hoped would happen after his death.
That’s the secret. If you always make sure you’re exactly the person you hoped to be, if you always make sure you know only the very best people, then you won’t care if you die tomorrow. — Carol Rifka Brunt, Tell the Wolves I’m Home
June is a shy, insightful, wise-beyond-her-years narrator you will not soon forget. This is a sweet, sad, yet ultimately hopeful coming-of-age debut novel that will appeal to readers of all ages. I look forward to reading more from Carol Rifka Brunt.
I want to thank my friend Dawn for such a thoughtful review. Be sure to check out her blog, Mom Mom’s Apron, Of food and life: http://mmapron.com