Tell the Wolves I’m Home
by Carol Rifka Brunt
Original Publication Date: June 19, 2012
Length: 368 pages
Publisher: Random House Publishers
Obtained Via:Borrowed from the library
Format Read In: Library book
View at the Traffic light:
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.
What can I say about Tell the Wolves I’m Home that will do this beautiful, yet often weird, story justice? I suppose I could speak about the characters of Finn and Toby, or talk about June in all her wonderfulness and obliviousness, but I just don’t know how to get across how much I loved Tell the Wolves I’m Home. This is a book in which sometimes very little happens, but on the surface everything is happening underneath. At its heart, Tell the Wolves I’m Home is June’s coming-of-age tale, and the story of how she learned about life and how to put some things behind her while not forgetting others.
This is a character-driven novel, one that’s all about June. June is, you could say, a little strange. She romanticizes the past and has a penchant for the Middle Ages. She goes off to the woods often and is completely fine with her imagination being her only company. She is sometimes quite wise, and sees through situations and people in a way her sister never quite can, but she can also be completely oblivious. As much as I loved June, it’s safe to say she often made me cringe as well. Watching June grow up through Tell the Wolves I’m Home made me most misty-eyed and frustrated at times, but in a good way. I felt June’s pain so acutely, even when I wasn’t sure she knew how to express it.
The way June interacts with her family was by far one of the best parts of the novel. There’s a lot of tension between June and her sister, even though both partially want things to go back to the way they were before. Her parents obviously care, but they’re not always the best about showing it, and the entire time I was reading I just knew there was something hidden in that family dynamic that was going to rise to the surface. It could have been this big thing that the author used for dramatic effect, but it wasn’t. It was just a slow, quiet part of the plot that really showed how the characters had changed over the course of Tell the Wolves I’m Home.
It’s mentioned within the first chapter of the story, but the mysterious disease that the synopsis hints at is AIDs, which is what takes Finn, June’s uncle. It was strange to be transported back to a time when so little was known about this deadly disease, but everything was feared. Even though in many ways Tell the Wolves I’m Home is not about this disease, Brunt did an excellent job of showing the fear and uncertainty everyone had when confronted with the topic. It’s hard to imagine some of the things various characters in the book wondered about now, but in a time when hardly any information was available, it’s easy to see why people were so curious about Finn’s death.
I do not want to go too much into talking about June and Toby, but let me just say that the way these two characters related to each other but also foiled each other was well-done. The way they grew and changed because of each other through the course of the book is incredible, and I loved how Toby played such a role in June’s coming-of-age in Tell the Wolves I’m Home.
As a last note, the writing in this book is absolutely stunning. The most normal conversation changed into something beautiful. I only share passages of books when I really love them, and some of the parts in Tell the Wolves I’m Home were just too good not to share:
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.
Oh June, I totally feel you on that one.
“I felt like I had proof that not all days are the same length, not all time has the same weight. Proof that there are worlds and worlds and worlds on top of worlds, if you want them to be there.”
Tell the Wolves I’m Home was both heart-breaking and beautiful, and is one of those books that makes me so profoundly grateful for books and stories. This is one of those books that reminded me why I read and how a book can affect me so deeply. June was a fascinating and fantastic narrator, wise but yet oblivious, young but able to grow up so much. 5/5 cupcakes.