Once in a blue moon, you’ll read a book that feels like it was written specifically for you. Tell the Wolves I’m Home is that book for me. The author, Carol Rifka Brunt, acknowledges that the book could be classified as many things–a coming of age story, a tale of illicit love, even “art” fiction–but she doesn’t commit herself to any one genre, and rightly so. Books, in general, provide freedom to their readers, to mean different things to different people, and for me personally, Tell the Wolves I’m Home is a story about relationships.
Set in the 80s, June, a fourteen year old girl, is growing up in the shadow of her more beautiful and accomplished older sister. June’s Uncle Finn, her best friend and confidant, dies of AIDS and leaves the family to cope with the aftermath. When Finn’s boyfriend–or the murderer as her family calls him–reaches out to June, the relationship that unfolds is one ripe with plot potential. It’s tough to hit on the major plot development points without spoilers, but if that teaser doesn’t grab your interest, I don’t know what will.
The author, to me, is not only a good storyteller but a smart one. In her novel, June and her sister have a normal and functional family with normal / functional family problems. Their parents aren’t absentee parents, appropriately and occasionally hovering, and have been cast as accountants. They are conveniently out of the house during the course of the novel, temporarily overloaded with work during tax season, and the girls are essentially left to their own devices, to do the slightly questionable things that teenage girls do without adult supervision. There are the requisite high school parties with alcohol and other minor illegal substances but nothing dangerous enough to jar either girls out of character or create a psychedelic drug-fueled plot device.
There are a lot of different paths the author could potentially lead us down throughout the book, which leads to some meandering. And at a few parts of the novel, there is a stretch in reality, which I think contributes to the rapidly fading magic that is the transition from child to adulthood. Sometimes there is love in the last place you expect to find it and there really are flea circuses and million dollar art stashes hidden in the basement.
If you’re a burgeoning writer or a reader who appreciates peeling apart a story, watching pieces fall away and deciding how critical they are to the work as a whole, this may be the novel, of the season, for you.