Book Review: Tell the Wolves I’m Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt

Tell the Wolves I'm Home“You can build a whole world around the tiniest of touches.”

I’m just going to say it straight out: this book kinda creeped me out. And not in a good way.

The year is 1987. June Elbus is one of those quirky, misunderstood teens in the Royal Tenenbaums, Harold and Maude mold. None of her peers get her, which is exacerbated by her love of all things medieval (and her habit of wearing medieval-inspired clothing to school). One of her favorite pastimes is to hang out in the woods so she can feel herself “fall out of time” and pretend she’s living in a distance age. She and her older sister used to be inseparable, but lately their relationship has become oddly combative. Worst of all, her uncle Finn, the only person June felt any sort of kinship with, has died of AIDs.

At the funeral June notices a strange figure lurking. Not long after, June receives a beloved tea set that had belonged to Finn with a note from this man (her uncle’s lover, Toby), saying that he would love to meet her.

The description on the dustjacket ends there, vaguely promising that “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.”

It sounded lovely (and right up my alley. I happen to have a weakness for quirk). But the reality of what’s going on in this novel is … on the unsettling side. You see, it wasn’t just that June felt that her uncle Finn was her best friend, the only person who understood her. She was in love with him. Full on in love with him.

Even that could have been OK, I guess. June knew it was never meant to be (Finn’s sexuality being the least of those concerns). Young love tends to be foolish, hopeless love, and one could see how she could mistake the closeness of their bond to be a sign that they were soulmates. But then the feelings begin to transfer over to Toby, Finn’s partner. He seems aware, but doesn’t do much to discourage them. Which leads me to creepy feature number two: he gives her alcohol and cigarettes. She’s fourteen years old. She’s never smoked or had a drink before. It’s discomfiting. To say the least.

There’s also something of a likeability issue at play here. Granted, it is not necessary to like everyone in a novel in order for it to be great, but I found it hard to care much about any of these people. Greta clearly loves June more than it is meant to seem, but it’s hard to care about her when so much of her behavior is nasty and petty.

If you can get past these aspects of the novel (I tried and failed), whether or not you’ll like it depends on how willing you are to read about people who are just determined to screw things up in ways that don’t always make sense. Judging from the reactions of the ratings I see online, most readers are more forgiving than I am. So this is probably a case of the cheese standing alone, but it wouldn’t be the first time I found myself in that position.

I really wanted to like this book. I just couldn’t get passed the creep factor.

Grade: C

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