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Tell the Wolves I’m Home

AB4T is going on summer hiatus after today’s post, resuming Monday, July 23rd. But before we go, I am very excited to share this wonderful coming of age novel. I only wish I had read it in time to include it in our Best Books of the Year so far list.

Nice of Amazon to take care of that for me. Carol Rifka Brunt‘s debut has been named an Amazon Best Books of the Year So Far: Top 20 Picks for 2012 and is scheduled to be a Barnes & Noble Fall 2012 Discover Great New Writers Pick.

This beautiful novel of love and loss is narrated by June, who has (what she considers) a horribly embarrassing secret — she loves her uncle Finn. She knows it’s inappropriate and wrong. Who falls in love with their uncle? Brunt does a wonderful job of making Finn a vibrant man that the reader can’t help but love too. He dies of AIDS very early in the story (don’t worry, I’m not giving anything away here), yet he is alive enough in those first pages, and in the memories of those who loved him, to sustain the novel.

This is only one of the story’s secrets. The second is a person — Finn’s longtime partner, Toby. June’s mother made Finn promise to keep him hidden from her daughters as a condition of spending time together. After Finn dies, Toby approaches June. Their budding friendship (another secret) leads to healing and understanding, but also to the uncovering of more family secrets and a terrible betrayal.

The time that June spends with Toby is fragile. Not only is he dying, but she knows that she will only get away with sneaking away to visit him in New York so many times until she is caught. This novel is suspended in time that cannot last, which only makes their relationship (and our reading experience) more precious.

June’s older sister, Greta, is another great teen character. She is just plain mean to her sister at the beginning, and it takes a while to uncover her motivations. She’s young for her grade, and her talent as a singer and actress threaten to push her beyond her comfort zone to leave home for Broadway before she’s ready. She’s just plain scared. Her parents are oblivious and June is preoccupied. As the novel progresses, her life spirals downward.

The sibling relationships in this novel are at its heart. No one knows you better and, in this case, is willing to expose you. As June says, “maybe it was that she was able to strip away all the layers until only the truth was left. Ugly and skinless and raw.” “Like someone had taken my insides and scooped them out for everyone to see. Look, here are her stupid hopes! Look, here’s her dumb soft heart!” The terrible vulnerability of youth.

* BRUNT, Carol Rifka. Tell the Wolves I’m Home. 368p. Dial. 2012. Tr $26. ISBN 978-0-679-64419-4. LC 2011027932.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home

Adult/High School–June Elbus, 14, begins her story in late December 1986, as her mother drives her and her older sister, Greta, to their Uncle Finn’s Manhattan apartment so he can continue painting their portrait. Finn is a famous artist dying of AIDS, and June is in love with him. She treasures their every moment together, especially their trips to The Cloisters. He even understands her favorite thing–walking deep into the woods, slipping on an old Gunne Sax dress and the boots he bought her at a medieval festival, and pretending she lives in the Middle Ages. After Finn dies, June is approached by Finn’s “special friend,” Toby. She never even knew he existed until the funeral, where her mother bitterly referred to him as the man who killed Finn. Now he wants to spend time with June. She is wary but cannot resist learning more about Finn’s life. Her parents are distracted by work and Greta is in rehearsals for the school musical, so June easily keeps their fragile friendship a secret. Much of this accessible, sensitively told, and heartbreaking story revolves around the jealousy inspired by the love between these characters, and the misunderstandings that result. Greta is jealous of June’s time with Finn. Their mother is jealous of Toby’s relationship with her brother. June is jealous of Toby’s relationship with Finn, and hurt that he hid so much from her. Teens will identify with June, her awkwardness and self-doubt, her need for escape, her conflicts with her sister and mother, and her sadness at losing the one adult who truly understood her.–Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City

Angela Carstensen About Angela Carstensen

Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.


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