Wednesday, December 5, 2012

(YA) Book of the Year: Tell the Wolves I'm Home

This is the review I wrote for but it is still totally applicable here. I just gushed less than I would ordinarily want to.

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

And it's About?

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.

In a Word, it was... Wowza.

It is totally amazballs that Tell the Wolves I’m Home is Brunt’s debut novel. As a story about family, jealousy, forgiveness, death and art, Brunt has given herself many balls to juggle in this coming-of-age story but she does so with the mastery of someone who has been writing for decades. It is a little weird in the start and does not entirely make sense but do not be put off. June is weird. She knows it and you will grow to love her for it.

The writing is simple but rich with details without being too lyrical and descriptive. June is lovely, so achingly awkward and strange. I wanted to fast-forward her out of those difficult 12-14 year old years so that she can see how unique and gifted she is in her own rite. Instead she lives in the shadow of her beautiful and exceptional older sister Greta, who tortures June as much as she tortures herself. Still, no one is good or bad in this book and there are no villans or heroes. The characters could all be real people: our sisters, mothers, uncles, friends.

As a South African reader, the story of Finn’s death and the stigma that follows the family as a result, might have had particular resonance. We are living in the height of an AIDS pandemic that has ravaged our country; tearing countless families and lives apart. And like the Elbus/Weiss family, we are also living in a society that still treats those with the disease as though they are lepers; capable of spreading the disease with the simple admission of having it. For many, the ‘short illness’ is as frightening today as it was in 1987.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home is unlike any adult and young adult book I have ever read. Reading it, I was transported back to my 17 year old self; discovering magical realism through the haunting and evocative South American novels I devoured that summer. Reading those books felt like running a fever. It was the same for me with Tell the Wolves I’m Home.