Tell the Wolves I’m Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt, is the sort of YA novel that keeps the genre worth reading. I’m consistently impressed by the way YA deals with grown-up issues with all the faith and fight of a teenager. I honestly am very glad that I got to read this particular book as an adult rather than as a teenager because I like the way I understand it now. I would have approached it much differently as a teen. The novel is written from the perspective of June, whose godfather and uncle, Finn, a famous artist, is dying of AIDS in the late 1980s. The political issues could certainly take over the novel if the author hadn’t brilliantly limited them to the intrusion of the evening news. June develops a secret friendship with her uncle’s partner, the man her family believes infected her beloved uncle, because of a note scribbled in a book that Finn leaves for her and a deep need to know more about the man who was kept secret from her for nine years. In addition to helping his partner and niece become friends, Finn tries to find a way to reconcile with his sister and to bring June and her sister closer again. Finn’s last painting, a portrait of sisters June and Greta, becomes a way for the living to connect with the dead and dying but for June and Greta to talk to one another as they secretly add to the painting, changing their representation to suit the the way they see themselves. A summary cannot capture the beauty and complexity of this novel. It’s nice to see a novel that captures the complexity of relationships so well, and it’s really nice to see a novel written for teens that doesn’t make a big deal out of being gay or to try to blame gayness for AIDS.
I think it is the most beautiful thing to find a novel that leaves you feeling wrecked and clean, and this novel accomplishes just that. I hesitate to classify it as a coming of age novel or, as it probably sounds by my description, one of those topical YA novels that teach kids how to deal with something hard. It’s really a powerful, well-written piece about how complex love can be, and I really hope you read it.
Five out of Five stars.