Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Review: Tell The Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

UK book cover of Tell The Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
I... don't understand. I genuinely and utterly feel like I've missed something with Tell The Wolves I'm Home, as I don't feel moved, tearful or even a little sad. I mean, I didn't hate it but it's a profound 'meh' from me on this one, if such a thing isn't too much of an oxymoron.

Plot summary:
There's only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that's her uncle, the renowned painter, Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her once inseparable older sister, June can only be herself in Finn's company; he is her godfather, confident, and best friend. So when he dies far too young of a mysterious illness that June’s mother can barely bring herself to discuss, June's world is turned upside down.

At the funeral, she notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd, and a few days later, June receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn's apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet.

A the two begin to spend time together, June realises she's not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he might just be the one she needs the most.

I really like the idea of this plot - older relative dies of AIDS and a close younger relative discovers his secret gay lover. It just really appealed to me as something slightly different and I care quite a lot about HIV/AIDS and the associated hysteria in the 1980s. Except I nearly gave up after twenty pages. Tell The Wolves I'm Home is horrendously emotionally manipulative - I've read My Sister's Keeper and it wasn't THIS bad. It's not even subtle - you're really, really bashed over the head with the Sad Mallet to the point where I felt that AIDS was being used almost.

In the end I was glad I persevered. I got into it properly after roughly a third of the book or so, when the drama had settled down and the character growth began. There were plot points I liked and some (more) that I didn't, but occasionally I saw some nice touches that gave the book a bit of character. The room in the basement, for example, or the portrait.

The problem was, I hated everyone. I know that's almost the point of a book like this one - I was shocked and almost offended by the general attitude and ignorance towards AIDS. I know it was basically prompted by fear of the unknown illness, but June's family's treatment of Toby just angered me. So yes, manipulativeness aside, I understand my dislike. Unfortunately I also hated June, which is most probably not the point.

She's annoying, wet and sulky. Theoretically she's fourteen but I struggled with thinking of her as anything but around ten years old. My biggest issue with June, though, was her relationship with her uncle. Not necessarily that she had feelings for him because I'm sure that's natural, but that everybody knew and encouraged it. Why did nobody, including him, deal with that in a sympathetic and understanding manner? I don't see it as necessary - the plot would have worked just as well with a close uncle/neice relationship, so why shove that in there?

Let's move on to Greta. Again, she's over-done and unrealistic. I'm used to stroppy teenagers in fiction but she's too over-the-top and just becomes an irritatingly Actual Bad Person. Also...

Spoilers below. Highlight to read.

What the hell is with the whole 'Oh, I'll just lay down in the woods and dramatically cover myself in leaves because I know June will be psychic enough to decide she has to find me?' crap. WHAT IS THAT!? I think that stuck out as the most unrealistic and over-dramatic part of the whole novel. Which takes some doing.

Spoilers over. 

I think I'm done with ranting about the characters. I know I've spent most of this review discussing them, but they spoilt the book for me. They're just the standard stereotypes of loner girl, bitchy sister, kind uncle, distant mother but then with bits of unrealistic weirdness thrown in.

I guess my main point about Tell The Wolves I'm Home is that it tries too hard. If the story had just been simply about a girl whose uncle died of AIDS and so she sets out to befriend his secret lover, that would have been fine. I would have been moved and affected quite naturally, but this way was too forced and I ended up irritated. As you may have noticed.

Read more positive reviews of Tell The Wolves I'm Home at An Armchair by the Sea and Devouring Texts. 


  1. this looks like a really good book
    GREAT review

  2. I find myself kind of glad that I had to return this to the library before I'd had chance to read it! I have to admit that I wasn't super keen on the idea anyway because I couldn't imagine how it could be anything but a sob fest but I was kind of convinced by everybody raving about it. I'll possibly still read it next time I spot it in the library but now I'm happy that it can stay not at the top of my list of things to buy.

  3. So I did really enjoy the book while reading it... but I also totally understand your problems with it. It does try too hard. June was too much of a wuss, and I HATED her sister. And of course the rest of the family who were being dicks about AIDS, but like you said, that was probably the point. Ehhh.. I read it, I liked it, but it's also not one that I felt the need to go out and buy my own copy of.

  4. I LOVED this book, but I did have to keep myself in check when things got emotionally intense and had to remind myself that the the narrator is somewhat unreliable. Of course, Greta is capricious and yes, there are very unrealistic moments, but that's from June's teenage perspective.


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