How do I talk about how much I loved this book without falling into superlatives?
I loved this book so much, I just want to tell everyone I know to read it.
Set in 1987, Tell The Wolves I'm Home
is the story of June, a fourteen-year-old outsider who wishes she lived in the Middle Ages and whose closest friend -- her uncle Finn -- has just died of AIDS. In the weeks following Finn's death, June strikes up a friendship with his boyfriend Toby, whose existence had been previously hidden from her. June's family believes that Toby is responsible for the death of Finn, a world-famous painter who hasn't produced any work in a decade until a final portrait of June and her sister Greta. Getting to know Toby opens up to June sides of her beloved uncle she had never seen before.
This is a gorgeous coming-of-age story that so eloquently captures what it's like to be an awkward adolescent without being patronizing or trite. Brunt so perfectly draws the character of June for us; her narrative voice never once sounds phony. Between the loss of Finn, the fractious relationship with Greta and the simple hardships of growing up, the book is packed with emotion but it never feels forced. It's just beautiful and moving and honest.
Having been too young to really remember the AIDS epidemic in it heyday, I'm always amazed to read about the extreme fear and prejudice the disease inspired. Brunt encompasses this aspect of her story in a way that almost takes it for granted and is impressively never too on-the-nose. Community members learning of Finn's death approach June hesitantly, and there's an incredible scene in which Greta recounts how their horrified mother wipes her mouth after Greta borrows Finn's Chap Stick without permission. June is aware of this prejudice but her love for Finn almost blinds her to it. She knows she's supposed to be afraid of the disease, but she loves Finn too much to fear him.
The most touching aspect of this book is how June's budding relationship with Toby forces her to re-evaluate her understanding of Finn. She sees pieces of the two men in each other and the realization that some of Finn's habits are things he inherited from Toby is almost too much for her to bear. Maybe she wasn't as close to Finn as she thought she was, if those piece of him were actually pieces of Toby. It's like an additional stage to the grief process that June is forced to go through and which will propel her into a more adult understanding of the world. As she spends more and more time with Toby she resents the pieces of Finn that belong to him while transferring the deep connection she shared with her uncle onto his boyfriend. It's an incredible, unique way of capturing the challenges of building one's self-identity in adolescence.
How is this is Brunt's first novel!? She demonstrates such command over her characters and the structure of her plot. Every image seems placed with such deliberation, it's almost impossible to believe this wasn't the work of a tried-and-true master.