Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Review of Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

The Dial Press
Random House Digital
Tell the Wolves I’m Home
by Carol Rifka Brunt
5 Stars

June loves her Uncle Finn, not just as an uncle, but a best friend, godfather, and her first girlish crush. So when Uncle Finn dies from AIDS June is at a loss about how to deal with the crippling grief she feels—worse, it’s the 1980s and the world is just being introduced to the disease. Even though her uncle is a famous painter, there is a stigma attached to his death. No one seems to understand her loss or even want to talk about it until she meets Finn’s boyfriend, Toby, someone June never knew existed.  Was Toby Finn’s killer, or is he the man who can help to heal June’s heart?
Perhaps one of the reasons I connected with this novel is the fact that it was set during the 1980s. I was a teenager at this time, and I can remember when AIDS was first publicized. AIDS was terrifying, but was largely treated as a “gay” men’s disease, so many teens not only dismissed it out of hand, but mocked the victims. Religious groups saw it as a just reward for immoral behavior, and rural teens just didn’t get it. The GLBT community was very much in the dark in the 1980s—at least in my small town. Who knew that people in my community might have struggled with these issues and with this illness? The novel was enlightening and helped to reveal the struggle many families must have had not only with the disease and its devastating results, but with acknowledging the sexuality of their relatives.  June is a wonderful conduit for the themes in this novel and an endearing character. Her innocence enlightens the reader to the conflicts of the time, and also personalizes Finn and Toby.  June makes Finn and Toby human when others may not see them as sub-human. I felt the family dynamics were very important to the novel as well. I loathed June’s sister, Greta, who I thought was hateful and self-absorbed, and even at the end I wanted to smack her. But Greta is an important character, because she is what she is and June still loves her despite her cruelty and cynicism. Just like every other character in the novel, she is flawed, and yet there is still love in her and she is still worthy of love. June’s parents, her mother especially, show the embarrassment that some felt having gay relatives, and also the narrow-mindedness of forcing relatives to choose between lives. In all, the conflicts were not only real, but tragically so, and beautifully woven to create a snapshot of 1980s life. Looking back from 2013, much has changed, but perhaps not as much as we may imagine. The disease has become more widespread, not a “gay” disease at all, but sadly one that still seems to have badge of dishonor associated with it.  Perhaps the novel helps to reveal those erroneous assumptions about the disease because the truth is AIDS doesn’t discern between color or creed, sexuality, nationality or any other standard—so it’s best to realize that we are standing in its path—flawed, human, and vulnerable. We need one another, and kindness, love, patience and understanding are our best tools of defense.

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