Carol Rifka Brunt’s debut novel Tell the Wolves I’m Home is a brilliantly beautiful and haunting story of June. June is in her early teens in the 1980’s and loses her beloved uncle to AIDS when the disease is only beginning to come to light. This story focuses on relationships between siblings and across generations in a way that echos through the reader in personal and moving ways. Even though this novel is realistic fiction, there is a magic between the pages that some fantasy novels never quite reach. This is a magnificent read that will grasp your heart and will not easily let go.
(Realistic Fiction rated: PG-13: for adult situations and content) This is definitely an adult novel. Not only does it deal with adult situations, but the themes, lessons and emotional content will not be appreciated by younger audiences.
NOTE: IF YOU CHOOSE TO READ FURTHER —– SPOILERS!!!!!
One of the criticisms of Brunt’s novel has been the relationship suggested between June and her uncle. Many readers have been disturbed by the fact that June alludes to being in love with her sophisticated artist uncle, Finn. While I do think that this is partially the case, I don’t think that her “being in love” with Finn is the point of the presence of that element to the story.
June is a fourteen year old girl who has a very tumultuous relationship with her older sister, Greta, and whose parents are pretty absent from day-to-day affairs, much less so from deep emotional issues that June may be facing. While Greta and June’s parents have a jaded, cynical attitude about life and are embittered by jealous, June sees beauty and light in most things. Including Finn and his partner Toby. Perhaps more importantly, Finn and Toby see the wonder and beauty in June that she herself feels distances and separates her from her nuclear family.
While it may seem that June has a “crush” on Finn, and later maybe Toby, it seems far more likely that in her youth and naivite, June is actually learning what true, deep unconditional love really looks like. She feels little love or warmth from her parents and she receives the brunt of Greta’s anger and jealousy more than her affection, which leads to the conclusion that the love and attention that Finn showers on June exposes her to something she has never felt before and can’t quite identify. Finn accepts her for who she is, exposes her to art and the more subtle beauties in the world around them. He encourages her love for fantasy and pretend and does not judge. Finn gives her a place and a sense of being and importance in the world that June does not feel elsewhere.
And then he is gone. June feels Finn’s loss like the loss of a limb. But when Toby comes along and she begins to understand who he is and what he meant to Finn, what he now means to June, it becomes more clear that June’s crush seems more of a beginning understanding of what it means to truly love someone. Not romantically – but in all aspects and without jealousy or judgement. So what a fourteen year old girl mistakes for a crush, isn’t so much a disturbing romantic love, but that of a loved girl learning to accept love and return it wholeheartedly and with all of herself.