Sunday, July 22, 2012

Tell the Wolves I'm home

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt 

Fourteen year old June, uncomfortable in her own skin does not understand the depth of her beloved Uncle Finn. Uncle Finn, a gay man, dies of aids in 1987. Before he died, he painted a portrait of June and her sister Greta titled, "Tell the Wolves I'm Home." Through the painting, Finn is able to tell his family everything that he could not say when he was alive.

June and Finn had a special relationship, but the rest of June's family cannot flush out the stigma of AIDS just as America could not in the 1980s. June was left in the dark about another very important person in Finn's life, his partner, or as Greta refers to him, Finn's murderer. June's quest to discover who her uncle really was begins when Toby contacts her. This story reminds us all what it is like to be young and naive to adult situations and adult opinions. Sometimes parents leave children in the dark as a way to "protect" them from the adults' own prejudices and familial embarrassments.
June, in her journey to uncover the mystery that was her uncle, copes with death for the first time. Not only does she miss Finn, but she is also dealing with her unconventional love for him. June is elusive, somber, embarrassed, odd, confused, and ambiguous. As I the reader tried to figure her out, June herself goes through self discovery. June doesn't like to talk or ask questions for fear of looking or feeling stupid. I found myself wanting to scream at her because she would ask questions in her head rather than out loud. She is unsure of how to interact with people or form relationships. The only person she could ever do this with was her uncle, which perhaps is why she feels as though her love for him is strange or abnormal.

Her relationship with her sister is tedious at best. June and Greta deal with becoming young women and they both grieve the end of their childhoods. Greta is mean and cruel because she is hurting inside. She wants to be friends with her sister, but the only way she knows how to interact with her is to be mean. As someone who has two sisters, I found myself relating to their relationship. The author did a phenomenal job of making their sister relationship authentic. Sister relationships are some of the most complex relationships people have in their entire lives. June and Greta despise and love each other in the same moment as many sisters do.

June's mother was the most complex character. I find it interesting when authors choose to make someone other than the narrator be very difficult to figure out. All we get are the observations and descriptions given to us, rather than first hand thoughts. I felt as if Mrs. Weiss was remorseful about something, that there was something she had chosen to hide from her past about her brother Finn. She carried around a large burden that her daughter could not know.

I have never read a book like this. The character development was perplexing and astounding. Now that I have finished the book I find myself wondering how June and her family are doing. You MUST read this book.

I highlighted many quotes in this book and I want to share my favorites:

On Greta:
"Greta's talk is like a geode. Ugly as anything on the outside and for the most part the same on the inside, but every once in a while there's something that shines through." (p. 60)

On Greta, June and the painting:
"All I could see was me and Greta shoved into that frame together. No matter what happened, the two of us would always be trapped inside those four pieces of wood." (p. 52)

June on herself:
"I thought about myself from head to toe. It was like being forced to read the most boring part of the Sears catalog. Like leafing through the bathroom accessories pages. Boring brain. Boring face. No sex appeal. Clumsy hands." (p. 194)

"I was doomed to mediocrity." (p. 215) 

"You get into habits. Ways of being with certain people." (p. 221)

"I was the girl who never understood who she was to people." (p. 236). 

"Sometimes I go around pretending I'm a medieval kid dropped into our time so that everything around me looks strange and fresh and ridiculous. Okay? Now that you know just how weird I am, you're free to laugh or tell all your friends or whatever..." (p 169) 

"Maybe all I wanted was for Toby to hear the wolves that lived in the dark forest of my heart. And maybe that's what it meant. Tell the Wolves I'm Home. Maybe Finn understood everything, as usual. You may as well tell them where you live, because they'll find you anyway. They always do." (p. 346)

On June's mother:
"How could someone act so strong and normal and under it all be so desperate and sad." (p. 234) 

"I needed to know that my mother understood that her hand was in this too. That all the jealousy and envy and shame we carried was our own kind of sickness. As much a disease as Toby and Finn's AIDS." (p. 370)

Below is Erin's review of the book:  

My only disappointment with this novel was that I bought the iBook version; I needed this book to be tangible. I needed to hold this book the way it held me. "Wolves"  had so many deeply haunting themes, that I'm not sure I could touch on them all at once. This is a book I need to keep coming back to, time and again. 

I have always loved period pieces- WWII, the 20’s, basically any story that can take me back to another time, I enjoy. The setting of this novel, in the height of the 1980‘s at the US’s first real awareness of AIDS, was no exception. Off that bat, one might not consider this  “period novel”. It was, after all, not that long ago, chronologically speaking. But socially, it was ages ago. It’s interesting to be thrust into that time when AIDS was just emerging and there was so much confusion and uncertainty. 
In addition to the setting, the characters are all phenomenal and very well developed. This is something I base most of my “favorites” on- character development. I loved how each of June’s family members has their own personality that unfolds throughout the story. While June is ultimately the main character, she serves as a vehicle for the others to move and grow along with the story. Through her voice and observations, we learn of her mother’s regret, her father’s sadness, and her sister’s loneliness. It is through June’s keen, wise-beyond-her-years observations that we learn of the details that make up each member of her family and ultimately how they all function together as a “normal” family, despite underlying feelings of sadness and remorse. Similarly, it is through Toby’s character that we really get to know the dead Finn. I loved this piece of writing- Finn is still a main character throughout the novel, fully developing along with the rest of the family, although he dies quite early on.
The point that the author made to make the family fairly normal and functioning, despite it’s controversy, was something I really took away from this book. My initial instinct was to paint this family as dysfunctional, to give a reason behind June’s eccentricities and her sister, Greta’s loneliness. But that was not the case. They were a typical American family made up of busy accountants and scared teenagers. The main story line -June’s “wrong” love for her AIDS ridden Uncle Finn- is a provocative subject that paved the way for more typical traits of the American family: loving parents, busy and just slightly too absent to keep close enough tabs on the kids, a sad teenager putting on a brave face, and a quirky girl muddling through adolescence.  I found myself identifying with both sisters’ feelings of growing up faster than they were ready. (This was another interesting thread: both sisters ultimately in similar turmoil, but showing it in different ways.)
In the end, I was never quite sure whether or not June actually was “in love” with her uncle, in the “wrong” way, or if she just deeply loved him for the person he was and the person he made her feel she was. Ultimately, despite this being the main story line, it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that a loved family member was gone and the remaining were left to move through life without him, each person changed by Finn in some way. 
This is the book I have been waiting for all year. I recommend it to all. Again, I wish I had the hard-back so I could share with fellow readers. 


1 comment:

  1. The author to this book read my blog!! Here is what she posted on my facebook link:

    "Not one, but two enthusiastic Wolves reviews! Thank you (and Erin) so very much for taking the time to put down your thoughts about this book. It's so great to know that you both liked June and her world so much. Very best wishes to you both."