Sunday, 24 April 2016

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Pages: 355
Date: April 24, 2016
Grade: 5+
Details: Library Reading Group

The blurb:

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.

My thoughts:

Oh my, what a book; heartbreaking, uplifting, thought-provoking and totally stunning. I’m so glad I finally got around to reading this wonderful debut.

I’m not quite sure how to categorize this book. It’s a coming of age story. It’s a story about first love. This book tells the tale of the aftermath of a devastating loss. Tell the Wolves I’m Home is about human imperfection and isn’t afraid to be honest about selfishness while showing there are always opportunities to redeem ourselves again.

This story deals with AIDS at a time when the disease first exploded into our consciousness. That in and of itself would be more than enough to make this a thought-provoking read. But it does more. It places the disease in the middle of other, timeless, struggles. June is only fourteen when her beloved uncle and godfather Finn dies. It is her first confrontation with the cruelty of death, and since it is the uncle she not only loves but has also fallen in love with who dies, it triggers an avalanche of feelings in her she’s just not equipped to deal with yet.

I admired the honesty of the author. June is not always a nice character to read about. Some of her feelings and actions are totally selfish—without regard for the feelings of others or potential consequences. And that’s only right. Fourteen is a tough time even when your life runs smoothly. Through June’s experiences we see the continued struggle growing up can be and while it isn’t always easy to read, it does sound true to life and was, for me at least, totally recognisable. After all, doesn’t every teenager just know that nobody has ever loved as deeply or hurt as badly as they do?

While AIDS features prominently in this story, I wouldn’t say it is a story about the disease. For me it was a story about growing up, about losing and finding again both yourself and those around you. The tale it tells was all to recognisable for me; suddenly losing the connection you’ve always had to your parents and sibling(s), the overpowering hugeness of the new feelings you experience, and the push and pull between wanting to discover the rest of your life while yearning for the simplicity of yesterday.

For me this was a poignant and brutally honest story. There are no easy answers, nor comfortable solutions. Not every issue is resolved, nor every worry erased. And while that means Tell the Wolves I’m Home wasn’t always easy to read it did make the book totally engrossing and I can say with absolute certainty that this story will play on my mind for quite some time to come.

“And then I thought something terrible. I thought that if Finn were still alive, Toby and I wouldn’t be friends at all. If Finn hadn’t caught AIDS, I would never have met Toby. (…) Then something else occurred to me. What if it was AIDS that made Finn settle down. What if even before he knew he had it, AIDS was making him slower, pulling him back to his family, making him choose to be my godfather. It was possible that without AIDS I would never have gotten to know Finn or Toby. There would be a big hole filled with nothing in place of all those hours and days I’d spent with them. If I could time-travel, could I be selfless enough to stop Finn from getting AIDS? Even if it meant I would never have him as my friend? I didn’t know. I had no idea how greedy my heart really was.” (Page 233)

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