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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

What I'm Reading: Tell the Wolves I'm Home

Again, here's a book I finished over the summer. It is a great backlist title that I never would have read if it wasn't for Book Lovers Club.  [Click here for more on Book Lovers Club].

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt was presented by friend of RA for All, Magan, at the January 2013 meeting.  Here is what she had to say about the book that night:
This was a wonderful book that broke my heart in the best possible way.  It takes place in 1986-87 in New York City and is told from the perspective of 15 year old June right after her uncle dies of AIDS. She is a very naïve, nerdy girl who is obsessed with medieval history and wears pigtails and clothes she thinks are reminiscent of the time. The time period is spot on especially in the way they talk about AIDS and the paranoia and uncertainty.  At the uncle’s funeral a mystery person shows up and adds another thread to the story. As the reader, you know what is going on and you want June to figure it out but you know it will be painful.  Although it captures being a 15 year old at that time it is really a bit too deep for all teens. 
Magan captures the book well.  To tell you more about the plot would give things away.  This is a book that begs to be discovered. You immerse yourself in the story, and you think you know where it is going, and in some of the smaller respects you do, but in others, in the big pictures lessons and actions, you really don't.

This is a book for people who like the 80s setting, enjoy coming of age stories with a captivating first person narration.  It is about the complexity of families and their histories.  It is about relationships between family members.  [I especially liked the way Brunt portrayed and resolved the storyline between June and her older sister.]  It is about grief and how we all mourn differently. It is about first love and secret friendships.

This is also a book which takes a hard look at "the other side of the story." The other side of the early AIDS epidemic, the other side of uncle and mother's story, the other side of the uncle and his boyfriend, the other side of the sisters' story. It is all about this problem that the way one person sees things is not the true full story. And how sometimes people never learn this basic truth of life, yet June in one 6 month period, does manage this feat. And this is all accomplished by Brunt with a first person narration only.  That pov choice alone makes this "other side of the story" cautionary theme even more powerful.  This is not hit you over the head Jodi Picoult style of telling a story of a family in crisis from all of their povs.  Rather, Tell the Wolves I'm Home builds a full and detailed picture of June and her family, in crisis, through the questioning and patient eyes of one remarkable teenager.

I just realized that this book is "about" a lot of things, but please don't mistake that for it being choppy.  Rather is one of the most cohesive and compelling novels I have read in awhile.

I wrote about another debut novel, Burial Rites, the other day.  Tell the Wolves I'm Home, which came out in 2012, was also a debut novel.  Whereas I mentioned that Burial Rites had some moments where you knew it was a first novel, Tell the Wolves I'm Home did not.  I am shocked that this is Brunt's first novel.  It was well paced, moving at a comfortable speed for the layered and emotional tale she was telling.  It had well rounded and interesting characters, an endearing, yet quirky, narrator.  It captured a very difficult time perfectly.  And most importantly, the novel was heartbreaking, heart warming, moving, and thought provoking, teaching readers something about the era and themselves.

Three Words That Describe This Book: endearing narrator, moving, "the other side of the story."

Readalikes: If you want to know more about the beginning of the AIDS crisis, there is no better book than And the Band Played On by Randy Shiltz.  I read this book 20 years ago and I still think about it on a regular basis.  It is an amazing work of journalism, epidemiology, and a riveting read about the defining epidemic of my life time.

Users on Goodreads have also created this great list of books about AIDS/HIV for more reading choices.

Two other lists containing Tell the Wolves I'm Home that caught my eye on Goodreads, is this one of good books set in the 80s and this one of "Best Books on Grief."  Both are appeal factors that I think may be of interest to people who enjoyed this novel.

But what I loved most about this story, was June.  She was an extremely realistic narrator.  Yes, this is a coming of age story, but it is also a story of love and loss, of family and friendship, and of embracing life.  June is smart, but not too smart; she is naive and wise at the same time.  She is also quirky, but not totally weird.

Here are some other books with narrators who reminded me of June.  I have read all of these books and would also call them moving-- not just sad-- but moving.  Please note, these titles like Tell the Wolves I'm Home are all also great YA-Adult cross over options:
Wow, I didn't realize how much I like this type of book. I have loved all of these titles.  Well, that is something new to add on my personal reader profile.

3 comments:

Sonia Reppe said...

This was my favorite book of 2012. The read-a-likes I would add are Swamplandia and The God of Animals.

Sonia Reppe said...

This was my fav book of 2012. The read-a-likes I would add are The God of Animals and Swamplandia.

Becky said...

Sonia, I can't believe I forgot Swamplandia. One of my favs and it is a PERFECT choice. Nicely done. See you soon, I hope.