Tell the Wolves I’m Home – Carol Rifka Brunt

Finally, I finished my first book since coming back from Italy. Tell the Wolves I’m Home is a slow, character driven sort of story set in New York in the 80s. June, a fourteen year old girl, is the narrator of the book – and her uncle Finn, his boyfriend Toby, and her sister Greta, are the characters that drive the story. June is an awkward kid; she doesn’t fit into her school, doesn’t feel connected to her peers, she lacks self confidence. The one thing she has, the thing that gives her comfort and joy, is her bond to her uncle, who dies of AIDS early in the book. His death – and the portrait he made of her and Greta before his death, sets off the story. June meets and gets to know Toby and as she does, she becomes aquinted with the sides of her uncle priorly unknown to her, she faces sides of herself and her sister – hidden, and she learns of the truth – of the portrait, about Finn and Toby, about her relationship with her sister, about her mother, about her place.

This is, as pointed out, a slow paced story – which was probably one of the main reasons it took me such a long time to read. It’s an interesting story – especially seeing Toby’s place in June’s changing, in her growing up. In the two of them getting to know eachother and in doing so, keeping Finn alive between them. But my favorite part of the story was actually how her relationship with her sister Greta changed throughout the novel, how we get to meet Greta as she is in the beginning of the novel – mean, sharp, “everyone’s favorite” but slowly come to see her for what lies underneath. I’ll admit I didn’t like Greta for a great part of the novel, because of her meanness, but then again I wasn’t an allround fan of June either. She’s very self-concious, she doesn’t take up the space she deserves, doesn’t voice her feelings, or in contrast – acts without thinking, this being mostly in concern to Toby. I suppose she is still a kid, 14 years old, and this part of her – that annoyed me – is also understandable from someone so young. In this respect I’m sure many readers could relate to her, looking back on their own younger selves.

Toby and Finn both are warm characters. They’re people who see beauty in the world even when the world to others might seem gray. They have a presence that changes the people who spend time with them, they are both a bit weird but also embracing this weirdness, embracing their oddness. There’s a great deal of Toby in Finn, and the other way around, something June finds at first saddening, but later comforting. Their presence are, in my opinion, what makes this book such a cozy, familiar place to spend time in.

The writing is from time to time very beautiful, capturing feelings or atmospheres so vividly. But I didn’t find the writing anything close to flawless, there was something lacking there for me. Even with interesting characters, with an interesting plot, and sometimes beautiful writing, there was something missing – I never felt emotionally attached, to anyone or anything. I never cried reading this, and I only smiled once or twice – it didn’t make as big of an impact on me as I’d hoped. But I still enjoyed the book for the most part. I think what I liked most were the small things – like the wolf drawn into the portrait, actually the portrait itself was perhaps one of my favorite aspects of the entire story. Whenever it was in focus, I found myself transfixed. Another thing I really liked was the train ride in the zoo that Toby and June was on, that scene. I think what I enjoyed was perhaps the way the world was built and the way the characters viewed it, seeing what they were seeing – seeing beauty in ordinary things. Finding the small pieces of light in the mist. And as I already mentioned, I really liked to follow the sisters’ relationship grow and evolve.

To me this book is about love, not just romantic love but love for a sister, for a friend, for something beautiful. It’s about being different, about growing up, about facing oneself – and about facing others head-on, and seeing them not as one thing or another but as full-fledged people with multiple sides and nuance to them.

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