Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Summary: 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.
^ That is the sound that I make when I really, really, really wanted to like a book, but unfortunately did not like it quite as much as I had hoped.
As I get older I sometimes have a feeling that the reality of the AIDS crisis and living through the 80's is something that we are still coming to grasp with. The reality is, it had been a long time since humans had had to deal with a disease that was so vicious, so lethal, and that spread so quickly and intimately. It hit the young and vital and destroyed them - literally wiping out whole groups of friends and communities, with only a few surviving by some small miracle.
It's something that I think that we could all stand to learn a little more about, and so when I saw a review that mentioned this book I was thrilled to give it a shot. A book about a young girl who had lost someone to AIDS? A book set in the 80's, the decade when I was born? Ohhh yes, I was definitely interested.
This review has been percolating in my head since yesterday afternoon when I finished this book, mostly because I knew that it wasn't that I hated it. But there was so much that I was uncomfortable with and that I disliked, even though there was much about the book that I found lyrical and beautiful, and extremely well written.
The main character of June and all her quirks is exquisitely realized. She's one of those characters that definitely seems real - we're there, inside her head, experiencing all her joys and moments of white-hot embarrassment, all the tribulations of being a teenager who has lost someone dear to her, has a rocky relationship with her sister, who is struggling with growing up and being different. I can see bits of myself in June, and her moments of grief and embarrassment tugged at my heart, because I could definitely empathise with her situation.
Other characters are well written as well. June's uncle, Finn, and Toby, the stranger - they come alive as well, through June's memories and experiences. June's sister Greta is there as well - almost as vivid as June herself, given that the two of them are sisters.
In essence, this is a very character, description driven book, and much of that is just perfect.
Here is where I have to get into what bothered me about this book, though - which is difficult to do, without going into spoilers.
To say it in a non-spoilery fashion, I am disappointed with the way the relationships were presented in this book. It felt like much of the book was spent going over the same things - the same issue with Greta, the same weight on June's shoulders in regards to her relationship with her uncle. Sometimes a book is more about the journey than the destination, but it is very difficult to write this balance well, and this book went off track a bit too often for my tastes. There were also more than few moments that just seemed downright creepy and 'off', and while a part of me understood the beauty of love and friendship and relationships that the author was trying to get at, I couldn't help thinking that there were other, better ways that it could have been accomplished.
I also didn't feel that the reality of the AIDS crisis was dealt with in a satisfactory manner. Some of it can be excused with the age of the narrator, but there were still aspects that disappointed me, where I thought that the author could have done more. Perhaps that's just not the story that she was trying to write, but it felt more like she was trying to get at something but didn't quite make it there. There was one particular relationship that June's uncle had had (not romantic) that had its issues, and it didn't feel as though those issues were resolved satisfactorily, at the end of the book. There was a brief touch on it, but then we were apparently supposed to regard the problem as solved, it felt like.
If you'd like to read a spoilery review, you can find it over here on Goodreads.
I didn't quite plan on this review being so long. I guess it's because I was so hoping to enjoy this book but didn't, and the disappointment of that is weighing on me. There were parts of this book that were so lovely, if the rest of it had been that way as well it truly would have been amazing. I'm sure that some will love this book - it's clear from the overall rating that many do - but it just feel short for me.
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