Rating: 5/5 stars.
When I finished this book, I felt overwhelmed. Like every bit of beautiful writing and bittersweet emotion had filled my heart and made it ready to burst. There are some books that you finish and think “thank goodness I’m a reader” or “thank goodness I got to read this one.” Tell The Wolves I’m Home is one of those books, and easily the best book I’ve read in 2012.
It’s not like the story was a loud one. Our fourteen-year-old protagonist, June Elbus, enjoys spending time in solitude or with her uncle Finn instead of hanging out with kids her age. She gets B’s in school and has no tremendous talent like her sister, Greta. But she offers some of the keenest and most honest observations I’ve ever read.
I wasn’t interested in drinking beer or vodka or smoking cigarettes or doing all the other things Greta thinks I can’t even imagine. I don’t want to imagine those things. Anyone can imagine things like that. I want to imagine wrinkled time, and forests think with wolves, and bleak midnight moors. I dream about people who don’t need to have sex to know they love each other. I dream about people who would only ever kiss you on the cheek.
The plot centers on June’s struggle to cope with her uncle Finn’s death, which was due to AIDS. After receiving a letter from a mysterious man who claims to have had a connection with Finn as well, June decides to meet this person – thus causing a waterfall of events that could hopefully lead her to heal.
Every character felt like a real person. I am not exaggerating. This is my 400th review on Goodreads, and out of the 400 books I’ve read and reviewed, Tell The Wolves I’m Home definitely places in the top 5% for its characters. Like I said, June is not a perfect protagonist. Some readers may even hate her. But all of her feelings – her loneliness, her jealousy, her melancholy – made me want to tell her it would be okay and cry alongside her. Greta, her mom, and her dad each possessed bad personality traits, but by the end, after looking at the full and finished portrait of each character, I came to empathize with all of them.
The writing. Carol Rifka Brunt’s writing possessed so much pulchritude, I don’t think I can describe it. It wasn’t bombastic or manipulative, rather, it was thoughtful and breathtaking. Read this:
I really wondered why people were always doing what they didn’t like doing. It seemed like life was a sort of narrowing tunnel. Right when you were born, the tunnel was huge. You could be anything. Then, like, the absolute second after you were born, the tunnel narrowed down to about half that size. You were a boy, and already it was certain you wouldn’t be a mother and it was likely you wouldn’t become a manicurist or a kindergarten teacher. Then you started to grow up and everything you did closed the tunnel in some more. You broke your arm climbing a tree and you ruled out being a baseball pitcher. You failed every math test you ever took and you canceled any hope of being a scientist. Like that. On and on through the years until you were stuck. You’d become a baker or a librarian or a bartender. Or an accountant. And there you were. I figured that on the day you died, the tunnel would be so narrow, you’d have squeezed yourself in with so many choices, that you just got squashed.
This is one of the first books I’ll reference when people doubt the power of realistic fiction. No vampires, no fallen angels, no magical realism – just a simple yet gargantuan story about a girl whose uncle died because of a horrid disease. Tell the Wolves I’m Home will whittle your heart down to nothing, and build it back up stronger than ever before.