Tell The Wolves I'm Home. No, Seriously. Tell Them.

June 27, 2013 Art, Coming of Age, Contemporary Fiction, Tear Jerkers 43

Happy Monday, Bookworms!

I don’t use the term “favorite” often when it comes to books, because it’s too difficult. All sorts of books have all sorts of great reasons to love them. However,  Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt tugged at all the right heartstrings for me. Dare I say that this may just land on my list of FAVORITES? Oh, I dare. And now I’m going to gush all over the internet. Ready?


It’s 1987. June and her sister Greta are posing while their Uncle Finn paints their portrait. The girls spend every Sunday at their uncle’s apartment in the city while he paints. (Oh I should clarify. “The City” in this instance means NYC. “The City” if I use it generally means Chicago. People who grow up in the suburbs of major cities tend to refer to the major cities simply as “The City.” I confused the bejeesus out of one of my book club pals by not clarifying my usage once. It was pretty funny.)

Sadly, these portrait sessions are some of the last hours the girls will spend with their uncle, because he is dying of AIDS. Like I told you earlier. It’s 1987. The AIDS crisis is blowing up. There is no treatment- AZT isn’t even available yet. At this point in time, AIDS is a death sentence, and a quick one to boot. June is exceptionally close with Finn. She spends more time with him than Greta does- they have pretty much the coolest uncle-niece relationship ever. Greta has no trouble making friends whereas June’s favorite activity is to wander in the woods pretending she’s in the Middle Ages. (Right there, June had my heart. We had a little wooded area near our house when I was growing up. Wandering around while pretending to be in another time? Been there.) Finn took June under his wing and gave her an outlet for all her eccentricities, and some sweet boots.

With no antiviral medications, AZT, or drug cocktails, Finn isn’t long for this world. At his funeral, June notices a man lingering outside the funeral home. Greta tells her that the man is responsible for Finn’s death. That he maliciously gave Finn AIDS. A few days later, June receives a mysterious package with a note from a man named Toby. The package contains her Uncle Finn’s beautiful Russian teapot. The note from Toby begs June to meet him.

Fun fact, I collect teapots. Now I desperately want a magical Russian teapot like Finn's!

Fun fact, I collect teapots. Now I desperately want a magical Russian teapot like Finn’s!

June soon realizes that she’s not the only person torn to pieces by Finn’s death. Her friendship with Toby introduces her to facets of Finn she never knew- a whole segment of his life that was kept from her at her mother’s behest. The sibling relationships in this book are painful, but so REAL. Greta and June have this antagonistic love-hate thing going on that really resonated with me. Plus, we eventually learn some of the history behind Finn’s relationship with his sister. Even it was a dick move to  refuse to allow her children to have any interaction with Finn’s life partner, I still sympathized with June & Greta’s mom.  That’s good writing. Flawed characters acting like REAL people are some of my absolute favorites. Seems to me that most of the time people are just trying to do the best they can, it’s just that pesky humanity business goes and gets in the way.

The thing that struck me most about this book was the historical context. By the time I was old enough to have any real understanding of HIV/AIDS, people were pretty well aware of how the disease was spread. There is a scene in the novel where Greta’s mother catches her using Finn’s lip balm and has a bit of a meltdown. At one point June is ashamed to be fearful of getting a kiss from her uncle. Heck, even in the late 90s some of that paranoia remained. When I was in high school, I recall my health teacher saying that he might shake the hand of a person known to be infected with HIV… But he’d immediately wash his hands very, very well. Ten years AFTER this book took place, there were people who refused to listen to the scientific evidence… And they were allowed to pass that attitude on to young teens.

Thanks, Liz. My sentiments exactly. Source

Thanks, Liz. My sentiments exactly. Source

This book isn’t about science or virology. It’s about love, loss, and forgiveness. It’s a coming of age tale where June learns that things aren’t always what they seem. My words feel clumsy and I’m not doing this book any justice. Just trust me and read it, okay?! You won’t be sorry.

Alright Bookworms. I need to know. Anybody out there have an awesome relationship with an extended family member? I want to hear about it! Let’s share the love for our eccentric aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, shall we? (I hope someday my Squishy has such stories to tell about me!)

He already things I'm nuts.

He already thinks I’m nuts.

43 Responses to “Tell The Wolves I'm Home. No, Seriously. Tell Them.”

  1. ashley

    I still think about this book and the complexity of the relationships and the characters. I love every single relationship and friendship in this book! Everyone should read this!

  2. Andi (@estellasrevenge)

    OK, I’d been ignoring this one pretty good until now. I was born in ’80, so I was around but not terribly aware during all the HIV/AIDS drama. As I got older and became more aware, we started having conversations like the one your health teacher had. By that point I knew several good family friends who had AIDS or who had lost their lives, and I became very impassioned and outspoken on the issue. Much to my freinds’ chagrin. Oh well!

    But all that to say that this book sounds amazing.

    • Words for Worms

      Sometimes I get upset with myself for not talking back to my health teacher, because I was so upset by what he said (obviously, it’s still with me over 10 years later.) I’m proud of you for being outspoken!!!! The world could use a few more Andi types :). (And you should so read this book. My personal connections with AIDS made it SO MUCH MORE for me!)

  3. Charleen

    There was a lot about the book I liked, but it just didn’t grab me and overwhelm me the way that it did you and Amy (@ Insatiable Booksluts) and other people. Maybe because I don’t have any personal connections with AIDS? But I felt like that part of the book was what was supposed to affect me, but I was much more interested in the relationship between the sisters… so even though I did like the book, it was like I was doing all my feeling in the wrong places.

    • Words for Worms

      Psha. There’s no such thing as feeling in the wrong places! But, to an extent I agree. I think having known people with HIV/AIDS has colored my feelings on the subject for sure. Even the great drugs they have now have some really nasty side effects down the road… But that’s a story for another day. Today’s story is: Charleen can feel connection wherever she feels it! It’s okay if she doesn’t fawn over the same books others do. She is the queen of thrillers! (Cue Michael Jackson)

  4. Kelly

    Wow, I’ve never even heard of this one, so I guess I need to add it to the TBR right-quick! Awesome review. As for good extended fam relationships, probably the best is my cousin Amy. She’s 13 years older than me and growing up, was my idol. I was super shy/introverted when I was a kid, but Amy was (still is) crazy outgoing, and I used to wish so much that I could be like her. She used to push me to do some really ridiculous things when we would hang out. Now we both have kids and I still admire her “zing”. Sometimes having a relationship like that with a non-sibling is really meaningful when you’re a kid!!

    • Words for Worms

      Amy sounds fabulous! It’s awesome that you two have a close relationship, I love these kinds of stories! And of course I totally think you should read this book… But what with your being pregnant and hormonal, I advise tissues. (I’m really excited for your new little bookworm!)

  5. Books, Tea & Me

    The first time I’d heard about this book was yesterday when I looked your Top Ten Tuesday. While you hadn’t said a whole lot about it then, the cover intruiged me. But now, after your review, I know I HAVE to get this book. It sounds incredible. While I can’t personally relate to AIDS or family secrets or whatnot, I can relate to the undeniable connection between an outer-family member and myself. My aunt and I are super close and she’s pretty much like my best friend and my second mom. Sometimes I feel I’m closer to her than my real mom, which I feel super guilty about, considering they’re sisters.
    Great review and thanks for drawing my attention to Tell the Wolves I’m Home. 🙂

    • Words for Worms

      Sometimes I think the parent child relationship is tougher because it’s so hard to have any perspective… Like a semi outside person can ‘get’ you in a way that someone you live with can’t. I don’t know, but I LOVE that you have a great relationship with your aunt and I love that you want to read this book! My work here is done.

  6. Wayne

    I think a good book to read along with this one is *And the Band Played On*, a non-fiction book about the beginning of the AIDS pandemic. It is interesting but depressing reading with a few heros, a few villains, and a lot of people desperately searching for answers.

    • Words for Worms

      I haven’t read And the Band Played On, but I’ve seen the movie (I know, I want to smack myself for that sentence.) It makes me cry every time. So good.

    • Words for Worms

      I read an article yesterday about how it’s difficult to define YA. Most agree there’s a coming of age element to it, but I won’t claim to be a librarian. No idea how it should be categorized. I just know I loved it :).

  7. Leah

    I’ve read so many reviews of this book, and every one of them has raved about how good it is. I NEED TO READ IT. Why are there so many amazing books that need to be read? Also, your review is not nearly as clumsy as you think it is; I thought it was very good!

    • Words for Worms

      LOL thanks Leah. It was significantly clumsier before I edited the crap out of it last night, but I’m no novelist. Ah well. Professional appreciator, right here. I don’t know why there are so many great books? I constantly feel like I’m playing catch up!

  8. PinotNinja

    I loved this book so much that, as soon as I finished reading it, I turned right back to page 1 and read it all over again straight away. After reading this great review, I might just have to pick it up tonight and give it a third read.

    I’m so glad someone else gets it, especially the part about not really being able to fully explain to others why it is so good. Any discussion of this book leaves me flustered and shouting “Just read it already! Trust me! Read it! Now!”

    • Words for Worms

      Yes! I got a copy from the library but I might just have to buy one too. I rarely re-read, but I would for this one. I love it like chocolate.

  9. Jennine G.

    I had an uncle, my dad’s oldest brother by 16 years. He was born in 1934 I think, and he was more like our grandfather because of the age difference between him and my dad. He never married and had no kids, but my whole life his friend Frank came to all of our get togethers and I thought nothing of it. After he passed away about 8 years ago, I found out he was gay. Here it had been a big hush thing in my dad’s family, likely because of the time period they lived through, where people just kept these things quiet (his parents – my grandparents – were born in 1912 and 1914). He was a great man…he spoiled us and we loved him. He even paid for my whole first semester of college from a fund he had been saving my entire life up to that point.

    • Jennine G.

      And unlike in this book, we knew my uncle’s partner well. We actually called him Uncle Frank too. But we were sheltered enough that we never caught on until much later, after the fact. It must’ve been an agreement with my uncle and the entire family too because he never said a word or did anything that would make us guess the secret either.

      • Words for Worms

        Oh wow. I wonder whose decision it was to keep your Uncle’s orientation a secret. I’ve heard of gay couples (particularly older gay couples) who live together but refer to each other as roommates or friends instead of just saying, “this is my life partner/spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend/lover.” Maybe he wanted it that way? Like you said, a generational thing maybe? I dunno. I’m just glad you had such a cool relationship with your uncle and his partner! It’s always great when a family member ends up picking an awesome spouse!

  10. Kayla Sanchez

    The cover drew me in, but now I need to read this story! Thanks for the recommendation!

    (no close family members from the extended side here… They’re all crazy!)

  11. Sarah Says Read

    Arrrgghhh okay I gotta add this to my list. I had no real idea what it was about, but it sounds so INTERESTING. Although I could see myself hating the mom, which isn’t nice because things were different and people were confused about AIDS back then, but still. But especially in light of the whole SCOTUS/marriage equality thing just happening, it seems like the perfect time to read this. I want to know more about Finn and Toby!

    I WISH I had a cool relationship with some random family member, but we all pretty much keep to ourselves. The closest I came was really to my grandma, who was awesome. Now that she’s gone, *shrugs* I see family around holidays maybe but that’s pretty much it. I am SURE Squishy and you will have an all sorts of awesome bond 🙂

    • Words for Worms

      It’s a good read, and timely. And yeah, you’ll kind of hate the mom. But she’s maybe a little bit redeemed toward the end. Depends on your perspective. I hope Squishy and I will have a cool bond. He’ll probably be like, “Why won’t Aunt Katie buy me legos for my birthday? All I want is legos! I can’t build a castle out of books!”

    • Words for Worms

      It’s hard to compare the two because they’re so different, BUT, I think you’d like it. If you connected with the unusual and heartbreaking circumstances in Me Before You, I think you’ll enjoy Tell The Wolves I’m Home. (I’m so so so flattered that I introduced you to a favorite book!)

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