In this striking literary debut, Carol Rifka Brunt unfolds a moving story of love, grief, and renewal as two lonely people become the unlikeliest of friends and find that sometimes you don't know you've lost someone until you've found them.
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.
An emotionally charged coming-of-age novel, Tell the Wolves I'm Home is a tender story of love lost and found, an unforgettable portrait of the way compassion can make us whole again.
My sister, Greta, and I were having our portrait painted by our uncle Finn that afternoon because he knew he was dying. This was after I understood that I wasn't going to grow up and move into his apartment and live there with him for the rest of my life. After I stopped believing that the AIDS thing was all some kind of big mistake. When he first asked, my mother said no. She said there was something macabre about it. When she thought of the two of us sitting in Finn's apartment with its huge windows and the scent of lavender and orange, when she thought of him looking at us like it might be the last time he would see us, she couldn't bear it. And, she said, it was a long drive from northern Westchester all the way into Manhattan. She crossed her arms over her chest, looked right into Finn's bird-blue eyes, and told him it was just hard to find the time these days.
"Tell me about it," he said.
That's what broke her.
I'm fifteen now, but I was still fourteen that afternoon. Greta was...
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. The AIDS-related death of a homosexual family member in Rifka Brunt's hands 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.
(Reviewed by Stacey Brownlie).
Full Review (442 words).
The characters in Tell the Wolves I'm Home visit numerous locations in New York City and Westchester County, New York, and the accuracy of Rifka Brunt's descriptions adds a rich flavor to the story. If you're the type of person who likes to travel to literary-inspired destinations, you might consider these three stops:
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Set amongst the deadly coal mine fires of 1960s Pennsylvania, The Hollow Ground is an extraordinary debut that will "grab you by the brisket and not let go" (Gary Shteyngart)
Attending a New England summer camp, young Eric Schroder - a first-generation East German immigrant - adopts the last name Kennedy to more easily fit in, a fateful white lie that will set him on an improbable and ultimately tragic course.
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