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. 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. (Amazon)
Reviewed by Julie, Children's Lit. enthusiast and pop culture geek
TELL THE WOLVES I'M HOME is a coming of age novel set in New York in 1987. When fourteen-year-old June Elbus learns that her uncle Finn, a famous artist, has died of AIDS, her grief is immeasurable. Uncle Finn has always been the only one who understands her, who values her unusual interests and social awkwardness. Without him, June is left virtually friendless: her older sister Greta bullies her, and her parents refuse to give her answers regarding Finn's mysterious illness. Then, one day, June receives her uncle's favorite teapot in the mail with an accompanying note . . . and a new friend and confidante steps into her life.
Carol Rifka Brunt has crafted a thoroughly engrossing, relatable, and bittersweet first novel. A coming of age story, Tell the Wolves I'm Home tackles many difficult issues, but manages to remain insightful and hopeful. Set in 1987, the novel and its characters feel transcendent, but the narrative reveals the decade's prejudices towards AIDS and homosexuality. Much of the mystery surrounding Finn's illness reflects the mysteries in June's family: Why is June's mother so reluctant to talk about Finn? Why did Finn insist on painting June's portrait weeks before his death? How did June's and Greta's once-strong relationship dissolve? Most importantly--who is the stranger who appeared at Finn's funeral? The story will keep you reading, but Brunt's gorgeous, lyrical language will make you want to take your time. Every word, every sentence flows beautifully and feels like poetry.
The characters are another high point of the novel. June, a teenage loner, is sensitive and interesting, an homage to anyone who just wants to feel loved and understood. Uncle Finn, portrayed with loving detail, appears largely in flashbacks but lights up every scene. June's affection for him, while complicated, feels relatable and moving. Even Greta, the older sister, proves to be appropriately complex and sympathetic despite her mean-girl ways. This novel would make a great read for anyone who loves to read about love, family dynamics, and the difficulties of growing up.
Market: upper YA/Adult realistic fiction
Sensuality: mild (first love feelings, quiet allusions to sex)
Violence: mild (one scene discusses a character's criminal past)
Mature Themes: Death and grief, AIDS/illness, family relationships, sexuality