Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Tell the Wolves I'm Home

The selection for the November meeting of Uncorked was Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. The story is a beautifully written, coming-of-age novel that deals with family relations, AIDS in the 1980s, and love of all varieties. Like the majority of our books for Uncorked, this is a debut novel. Unlike most debuts, this book is neither tedious nor pretentious.

I think the beauty of Brunt’s writing is in her ability to set the stage. I always knew where I was and what my surroundings were like. The characters were very well developed in terms of personality, but I had a harder time picturing them than I did the woods, the subway, or the apartment of a loved one. Brunt provided general descriptions of the characters physical appearance, but the let reader know the character through actions, thoughts, and emotions rather than just explaining who the person was. We were privy to silent thoughts and actions through the lens of the protagonist, June Elbus.

The story begins with two sisters having their portrait painted by their beloved, dying uncle. The uncle, Finn, is dying of AIDS in 1986. He requests the opportunity to paint the portrait over the course of several Sundays. June, who harbors a secret crush on her uncle, is delighted to spend the time with him, while her sister, Greta, is less than thrilled. Finn meets his untimely demise when the portrait is complete, but this is only the beginning. Finn’s death unravels family secrets of jealousy and desperation, as well as the fact that he was a renowned artist. The portrait becomes a communication tool between the sisters as they struggle to find themselves and renew the relationship they once had.

The book, like most coming-of-age stories, doesn’t offer a huge plot twist. The book is quiet and methodical. It offers the troubles of a girl growing up in the suburbs of New York, and how she comes to realize her place in the world and her family—not to mention, the consequences of her actions. What I loved was the pace of the novel and the questions that it posed—What is right or wrong in love? Who ultimately gets hurt when we let jealousy drive our actions? I also enjoyed June. She was a different sort of protagonist. Not always likeable, but excusably immature at times. Brunt created a character that we lived through but could see around when situations were above June’s understanding or experience.  

Overall, I would highly recommend the book to anyone seeking a good read. Tell the Wolves I’m Home is also the winner of an ALEX Award. The ALEX Award is awarded yearly to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12-18. A good read for teens and adults alike—a good book to share and discuss.

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