Tell the Wolves I’m Home (by Carol Rifka Brunt)

23 03 2013

tell-the-wolves-im-homeAlong with 9 other novels, Carol Rifka Brunt’s Tell the Wolves I’m home is a 2013 Alex Award winner. For those not in the know, the Alex Awards are given to “ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.” Last year, for instance, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus was one of the winners and the year before Steve Hamilton’s The Lock Artist also made the list.

It’s 1986 and 14-year-old June Elbus grows up in New York with her older sister Greta – who she’s slowly drifted apart from – and her accountant parents. Not having inherited her parent’s love for numbers, or her sister’s acting talent or outgoing personality, June has always found solace in her Uncle and godfather Finn, a talented and well-renowned artist. Now, however, Finn is dying of AIDS. One of his last wishes is to paint his two nieces and his sister in a painting he will call “Tell the wolves I’m home”. When the inevitable happens, June is overwhelmed with both grief and the memory of her strong feelings for her Uncle. When she meets Toby, Finn’s boyfriend who the rest of her family blames for Finn’s death, they soon form a friendship. Together they mourn Finn and provide each other with the support they can’t get anywhere else.

Set in New York in the 1980s, with the AIDS epidemic at its frightening peak pivotal to a clear understanding of the novel, Tell the Wolves I’m Home might at first glance not be an easy sell to young adults looking for a quick fix. However, the combination of an enchanting and memorable main character (June tells the story retrospectively) and a heart-breaking family (and love) story will win over many of them.

Brunt has created a complex family history here, and obviously the story is tragic and will have many a reader reach out for that box of Kleenex on the bedside table. Is this the best book the cat’s read this year so far? No, not by a long shot. However, the book is suitably tearjerky and Carol Rifka Brunt clearly has talent setting mood and developing character. The book’s pacing, on the other hand, could have been better and clocking in at 400 pages (paperback edition), it’s just meandering along a whole while to its inevitable conclusion and when a book starts to drag and becomes repetitive, you know it’s really just too long. That being said, Tell the Wolves I’m Home is a solid debut novel by a very promising author!

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One response

14 10 2014
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