I didn’t know what to expect when I checked out Tell the Wolves I’m Home. The cover is lovely, which is what reeled me in in the first place. The story is just as lovely, but dark and sad and terrible in a way that makes for long nights reading. June, the main character, is a teenager living in 1980s New Jersey, spending a little too much time with her uncle Finn. When it is revealed that Finn has AIDS and is dying, their already strange relationship changes drastically, leaving June feeling lost and alone. The bulk of the story follows June’s relationships with her parents and her older sister after Finn’s death.
My formative years were during the 90s, so I knew little about the fear and hatred that surrounded those with AIDS during the 80s. I had no idea that people actually thought you could get AIDS from a touch, from sharing clothes or Chapstick, from breathing the same air in a taxicab. “Did your uncle Finn actually have AIDS?” characters whispered conspiratorially to June, as if they were afraid of saying the word too loud, as if they might attract the virus. June’s fear of her beloved uncle was absolutely heartbreaking to read.
June’s older sister, Greta, treats June so badly for much of the book, teasing her for her feelings for Finn, mocking her interests in medieval times, tormenting her with family secrets, both those revealed and those kept hidden. It was painful to read the interactions between June and Greta, which just goes to show how talented a writer Brunt is; I could not read a conversation between June and Greta without wincing. Their parents, busy accountants, are fully realized characters, which is such a refreshing change of pace in a novel written from a teen’s point of view. June’s mother allows her brother, Finn’s, death to affect her relationship with June in a way that is maddening but altogether understandable, as far as I’m concerned.
This would be a great novel for an older teen looking for a real-life fiction novel. There are no exceptional teens with super powers, no mysteriously absent parents, no evil government to fight; there is just June and her fragile family, and an ending which is both tear-jerkingly sad and bright.
Originally posted on Oct. 24, 2013 on http://www.indiancreekschool.org