Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Book Review: 'Tell the Wolves I'm Home' by Carol Rifka Brunt

It's absolutely mind-blowing that this is Carol Rifka Brunt's debut novel. She writes in such a sophisticated yet simple tone, I was in denial that Tell the Wolves I'm Home was her first ever novel.

This book is a gem. I've never read anything like it before. The description on the back cover makes it sound like a cheesy, coming-of-age YA story that is aimed at 14-year-old girls (so, why did I even read it? Well, I'm a sucker for a good cheesy YA romance so I had to at least give it a try). Let me tell you, I do not recommend this book to any 14-year-olds. It might seem like a simple YA book, but it's not. It's so much more. I'd say the only thing that makes Tell the Wolves I'm Home a YA book is the fact that the protagonist is a teenager.

June Elbus' only friend in the world was her uncle Finn, an artist in New York City, who dies at the beginning of the book from AIDS. The story is set in 1987, during the infamous AIDS epidemic that spread the most heartbreaking misunderstandings of the disease. June, 14, has no other real friends except her older sister, Greta, but their relationship has become distant and somewhat bitter. Then, a stranger who appeared at Finn's funeral and caused an uproar contacts June, telling her he needs to meet with her. This leads to an unlikely friendship between June and Finn's boyfriend, Toby, who might end up being the friend June needed all along.

Brunt really nailed the mindset of a 14-year-old girl, as well as making the story historically accurate. She does include an author's note at the end in which she writes that she might have bent some historical facts to fit the story, but they're barely noticeable, in my opinion. When I was June's age, I too didn't have very many friends and any special relationships I had, I definitely held dear. It was so interesting to read a story about an introverted young girl who's trying to figure out who she is, and amidst all that, tragic misunderstandings of the AIDS virus and gay people themselves.

At first, I thought a lot of the main characters aside from June were homophobic, which wouldn't have been surprising given that it was 1987; the height of the Reagan administration as well as the AIDS virus, but they weren't, and I really enjoyed how Brunt made all of the characters just ignorant enough that you can almost understand where they're coming from, but not so ignorant that you wanted to close the book and tell your friends it's a homophobic piece of trash. Tell the Wolves I'm Home is a beautifully woven story about the AIDS epidemic of the 80s, what it's like to stop being a kid and the uncontrollable desires of the human heart. 5/5 stars.

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