Tell the Wolves I’m Home
By Carol Rifka Brunt
Published by Random House
Copyright © 2012
In 1987 the world was a slightly smaller and more compartmentalized place. For someone to come out as being homosexual was still a big shock, and while they were on the cusp of a successful treatment, for someone to have AIDS was a death sentence and it often made them a pariah. For those of you who were alive then it is amazing how different the world is now. This book will bring that back to you.
June Elbus is 14. She is a nerdy, awkward, dreamer. While not ugly she is not especially attractive when compared to her older sister Greta. June and Greta used to be best friends, but somewhere along the way they grew apart and Greta became very mean. Recently their Uncle Finn, a famous New York City Artist, painted a portrait of them together as his last gift to them before he succumbed to AIDS. Finn was June’s best friend, godfather, and the only person she felt truly understood her. June believes that she knew her uncle better than anyone, but a stranger will help her get a whole new perspective. She will learn more than she ever thought she could about her uncle, her parents, her sister, and especially herself.
“Tell the Wolves I’m Home” is an absorbing family drama that is at once tragic and hopeful. It touches on themes of who we love and how, loss and grief, intense jealousy, and sibling relationships. I found little nuggets of truth that we often forget about like why we all do what we do, or why we love who we love.
Brunt has written compelling characters that make you feel something and then later give you conflicted feelings. The story’s protagonist is very well written and complex; naïve and thoughtful all at once. The same of course can be said of all the characters in this book; few of them remain as simple as they seem at first.
Also well done is how the story doesn’t feel old or dated even though it was set in 1987, and yet it really can’t exist in this permutation without this time period. To make this a contemporary realistic novel would not work. There are certainly still hateful and ignorant people out in the world, but the majority today is more tolerant, if not accepting of homosexuality, and we have much greater insight about the transmission of HIV and AIDS. So the reaction June’s family has to the tragedy and its unfolding aftermath is wholly unique to this time period.
“Tell the Wolves I’m Home” is a 2013 Alex Award Winner, an annual award given to books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults. This book certainly discusses some mature topics in addition to AIDS and Homosexuality, but it does not descriptively go beyond what is appropriate for teens (12-18).