Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brundt

I recently finished Tell the Wolves I’m Home, and this is my delightful review. It’s not delightful. I’m not a delightful person. Anyway, review anyone?

The book
Tell the Wolves I’m Home is about a young girl named June Elbus, who is 14 and who has just lost her best friend, her uncle Finn. Finn was a very acclaimed painter and with her sister June has spent a lot of Sundays being painted by Finn. When he dies of a disease people can barely talk about and her mother refuses to acknowledge June feels sort of unmoored and alone. She and her sister Greta aren’t getting along, and Greta seems to be so angry with her. Then June meets Toby, a young man who lived with Finn and who wasn’t allowed to go to Finn’s funeral. And Toby feels alone as well, and they bond over Finn and their shared interests and he tries to give June things that Finn would have wanted her to have.

I thought it was good. It was a little weird, and there was something about it I didn’t like, and I can’t really put my finger on it, but it just bugged me.

It was really interesting to read something set in the 80s that dealt with aids, which is what Finn is suffering from. To read about the stigma around it and how awful it was when it was pretty much only a gay disease, was really interesting. I was born in the late 80s, so I don’t really have any memory of this, I’ve only read about it or watched like movies. So I found that fascinating. It was also interesting to see how Toby had basically been cut completely out of the lives of Greta and June. They basically didn’t know who he was because June’s mother was angry and wanted to punish her brother. So when Toby shows up all June knows is that he wasn’t allowed into the funeral, and he “killed Finn.”

I like reading about sibling relationships and there are two really interesting ones in this book. The main one is the relationship between June and Greta, who are having problems and who have a very contentious relationship. Since the story is told from June’s perspective so it’s easier to feel sympathy with her, and find Greta’s behavior unpleasant and confusing. But the longer the novel went on I had more sympathy for Greta. Greta is 16, and this really talented and high achieving person. She’s basically skipped a year and is one of the main players in the school musical. And her parents have put quite a lot of pressure on her, on top of the pressure she puts on herself. She is sort of out of place in her class, and in her family, and she has sort of lost her sister as well. June is best friends with Finn, and without meaning to they have sort of pushed Greta out. She’s also feeling guilty because she is almost happy that Finn is dead, because she might get June back. I don’t think Greta’s attempts to get June back are particularly good, but she doesn’t seem to know exactly how else to do it. The other relationship is between June and Greta’s mother, and Finn. They seem to also have a sort of contentious relationship and it seems to be mainly about the fact that Finn is gay and has this unapproachable part of his life that she can’t understand. I really liked both of them. They are both so fraught and painful and at the same time they have so much love. I love sibling relationships when they’re done well. Because they’re people who have known each other forever, and they have so much history, and I think it can be hard to do them well. These were done well. Even though Greta and June are the main focus I liked Finn and his sister’s relationship more. Because it had this huge insurmountable thing that sort of broke them.

I thought Toby’s relationship to June was really weird. There wasn’t really anything creepy about it, he seems to genuinely just want a friend, and he doesn’t have any family in the States. It’s still strange that a grown man wants to hang out with a 14-year-old girl. It also shows how unfair it is that June’s mother has kept this man away from June and Greta, because he could have been another uncle.

I’m still not sure what I didn’t like about this book. It might just be the relationship between June and Toby, it seemed so unlikely. It was a bit strange for a grown man to not have any other people to talk about Finn with. Presumably they had friends. And I understand that June obviously had a similar relationship with Finn. They loved each other and were best friends, but still. It also annoys me when grown-ups are so overprotective of their children that they basically fuck them over and then have no regard for them in other ways. Their mother is so concerned about the girls meeting Toby and learning what Aids is and learning what she was like before she became their mother. So she forces Finn to hide part of his life. At the same time she doesn’t notice any of Greta’s issues, she doesn’t actually talk to her kids about Finn’s death and how it feels, she just does nothing but hide and cover up. And it really annoyed me.

So essentially, I liked it, it was fine. It dealt with some themes that I find interesting and I think it was done fairly well, but there were also things that annoyed me, and though I can’t put my finger on it, something annoyed me.