I enjoy reading debut novels. Perhaps it’s my longing to have one myself. I’m conscious that many debuts have what I always jokingly call first-bookitis. That doesn’t necessarily make a book unenjoyable. I just am aware that the author needs a little bit of book-writing experience under his/her belt.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt, gives no indication that it is the author’s first novel, though it is. Brunt’s characters are believeable. The plot was compelling. The dialogue was realistic. The book made me laugh and it made me cry. What more could you want in a good read?
Brunt tells the story of a family living in a community just outside of New York City in the 1980s dealing with the death of a beloved brother/uncle from AIDS. But it’s not particularly a story about AIDS. In fact, in many ways Finn could have died from anything. It’s a story about family dynamics, family relationships (particularly between sisters), and learning about the varying aspects and kinds of love.
The main character is 14-year-old June, who deeply loves her Uncle Finn – her mother’s brother. Finn was an accomplished and successful artist, gay, and lived with his partner of many years, Toby. June can hardly bear her sadness at the loss of this uncle whom she so deeply loved. And to make matters worse, her sister Greta, with whom she has always been very close, seems to be slipping away from her emotionally and June doesn’t know why. June’s mother harbors a great anger at Toby, whom she purports gave Finn AIDS, thereby causing his death. She calls him a murderer.
But Finn has left a message for June that she discovered upon his death: please take care of Toby because he has no one else. Her anger at Toby initially makes this difficult.
I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, because the way that Blunt develops the story is amazing and beautiful. But page after page, the reader watches June grow up before our eyes.
I am impressed at how well Blunt made June’s character realistic. I felt as though I was actually seeing the world through the eyes of a young teenage girl. I’m also impressed that the author was able to make Greta so mean and angry, and yet when it came right down to it, likeable. I like the way she developed all of the characters as the book went on. By the end of the book, we come to really know and understand all of the characters, save perhaps June’s dad. But we even get a snapshot of him that sticks with the reader.
I have mentioned in previous book reviews that I find it refreshing when stereotypes aren’t strongly in place. I liked that none of the main characters, at least, were terribly upset by Finn being gay. They were horrified by his sad and terrible death, and angry at the partner who they blamed for Finn getting AIDS. But the fact that he was gay didn’t change the way they thought about Finn, nor change their love for him.
This book was read by my book club, and our discussion was lively and interesting; that is the sign of a good book.
I will definitely be on the lookout for Brunt’s next book.