BookBrowse Reviews Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

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Tell the Wolves I'm Home

A Novel

by Carol Rifka Brunt

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt X
Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2012, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2013, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Stacey Brownlie

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An uplifting debut novel about loss, love, and unlikely friendships in the midst of the 1980s AIDS epidemic

Tell the Wolves I'm Home is a literary pleasure read. The crisp, short chapters and slightly funky (and therefore realistic) characters had me turning pages fast and late. Rifka Brunt's story treats a potentially morbid central topic with a surprisingly light touch. In her hands, the AIDS-related death of a homosexual family member becomes the inciting incident of a whimsical, unconventional love story. She weaves teenage awkwardness, 1980s AIDS paranoia and domestic drama into an inexplicably happy narrative. It was a bit unusual to feel not just a nostalgic sadness as I closed the book for the final time but also to feel strangely uplifted.

The dawn of the AIDS epidemic and the fanciful mental life of an introverted young teenage girl are two parallel forces propelling the narrative. Protagonist June Elbus, a fourteen-year-old who is more at home at a Renaissance fair than at school or a party, is devastated by the death of her adored uncle Finn Weiss and plagued by the stigma of its cause. Add to this a secret crush that she tries desperately to hide away, even from herself, and the sum is one lonely girl.

Each Elbus family member copes with Finn's illness and death in a separate way. June's father tries to play peacemaker and stabilizer while June's mother - Finn's sister - swings between bitterness, sorrow and anger. At times, the parents and children find themselves at odds with each other, hurt by conflicting emotional responses. June and her older sister Greta clash the most; their once-close sibling friendship is almost completely severed after Finn's death. June retreats into her lively imagination and her private grieving as Greta turns unpredictable - often mean - with rare turns of beseeching for a return of June's companionship.

As the sisters become more adversarial than familial, June's child life of medieval fantasy runs headlong into young adulthood. Finn's partner, Toby, a man June has never met and whom her family blames for killing Finn, secretly contacts her. What starts as June's reluctant, almost desperate attempt to gain access to memories of Finn and to his physical belongings ends up being an opportunity for a close friendship that brings joy, truth and resolution to two lonely souls.

Fiction of such quality reminds me that loneliness and loss don't have to isolate people; the strange and cruel don't have to isolate us. Unity can be born out of the most difficult of separations, and when our minds are open, these inevitabilities of life can foster unlikely but intimate friendships. Because of this (and other seeds planted by her work), I certainly hope Rifka Brunt's novel is just the first of many to come.

Reviewed by Stacey Brownlie

This review was originally published in July 2012, and has been updated for the June 2013 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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