You Should Read This: Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Author: Carol Rifka Brunt
Published: June 2012 by The Dial Press, 368 pages
First Line: “My sister, Greta, and I were having our portrait painted by our uncle Finn that morning because he knew he was dying.”
Genre/Rating: Literary fiction; 5/5 teenage girls who dream of becoming falconers so they can learn how to keep those they love from flying away
Review: I have a love for beautiful cover art. This is some sincerely beautiful cover art. However, we all know that, as they say, you can’t judge a book by its cover, and I’m sure you’ve all been led astray by some flashy cover art (or a person with a rakish smile hiding a wolfish heart.)
Tell the Wolves I’m Home is one of the best books I’ve read in… weeks. Months. Possibly almost a year. I don’t know that anything I can say about this book can do it justice, but I knew I couldn’t not review it, because I want you all to read it. Immediately. As soon as you can get your hands on it. It’s just that good. It’s absolutely luminous. Is there such a thing as a perfect book? Probably not. Nothing’s perfect. But this one comes about as close as anything does.
June Elbus is thirteen. In the throes of awkwardness. Lumbering where the rest of her family is willowy and perfect. The only person that understands her, truly understands her, is her uncle Finn: a kindred spirit, a kind soul, her godfather, an artist who lives in a jewel of an apartment in New York City. It is 1986 and Uncle Finn is dying from a new disease that no one knows much about, other than it’s scary and communicable: AIDS. And when he goes, June is left alone, adrift, with no one to talk to, no one to share things with, no one who sees the real person behind her eyes. She worries no one ever will come close. “…once you had a friend like Finn, it was almost impossible to find someone…who came anywhere close. Sometimes I wondered if I might go through my whole life looking for someone who came even a little bit close,” June muses. And with those words, she had my heart. I’ve lost people like this. I’m still looking for them. I still miss them.
Once Finn dies, the truth starts coming out. Who Finn really was. Who he really loved. Why June’s mother was so conflicted. Why June’s sister Greta has become so distant, so cruel. Who the tall man with the sad eyes was, banned from Finn’s funeral. How you can keep going, even though your heart is broken. How deep our capacity for love is, how our hearts are so vast, so filled with forgiveness and humanity and kindness and secrets that we keep for the good of all that are involved. How there are infinite different types of love in the world, and how they are all valid. How they are all to be honored, all to be repected.
I devoured this book in two days while working the light booth for a play at my theater. I wept almost every third page at some discovered beauty, at some poetic turn of phrase, at a beautiful idea or creative turn Brunt took with the narrative. I loved the characters. I felt their pain. I wanted to lift them, whole-cloth, from the words and put them safely in my pockets.
“Maybe you could read something else,” the director of the play asked me the second night, worried because of the previous night’s tears, when I put out my book and a supply of Kleenex in preparation for finishing the novel. “I need to know what happens,” I said. “I can’t pick up anything else until I know.” He smiled and laughed and nodded. (He’s currently reading The Dark Tower series; he’s deep into Roland and his ka-tet. He understands needing to know what happens.)
This book rightly was given high accolades last year; it deserved every one. I lost count of the passages I marked and wrote down to peruse later. I lost count of the times I dissolved into tears over something that rang so true with me it was like I was the bell and the book was the clapper. It’s early in the year; I’m sure I’ll find something this beautiful before 2013 peters out on us in a fine haze of glitter and confetti and fireworks. But for the time being, I’m going to let this one resonate for a while. I’m going to let June’s wolves howl in my heart as long as they want.