Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt (Pan Books, 14 February 2013)
TELL THE WOLVES I'M HOME is a frequently moving story about grief and loss and family, the rifts that grow in relationships and the shameful things that we're sometimes driven to do by our jealousies.
It's 1987 in New York, and fourteen-year-old June is in love with her uncle, Finn, a gay artist who is dying of AIDS. Nobody else in the world understands her but him. Heartbroken after Finn's death, she is contacted by Finn's boyfriend, Toby, whose existence she was unaware of until now. The rest of June's family don't trust Toby – he killed Finn, they say. But June realises that maybe Toby is the only other person who might understand how she feels now. As June gets to know Toby, she finds out so much more bout Finn and her family than she'd ever imagined.
God, I don't know how to talk about this book. It's beautifully written, shining with breathtaking human insight. It made me cry and it made me smile and it made my heart hurt and hurt and hurt, but I kept feeling like I needed something from the book that it wasn't giving me.
I loved Toby so much. I loved him the most. I couldn't help but think that this story should have been his, and not June's. I wanted to know so much more about him, about him and Finn's love story: they have such a long and rich relationship, there must be so much to tell there. I wanted to know how Toby felt. How he lived after Finn's death, on his own in Finn's apartment. What he did when June wasn't around. I wanted to know all his thoughts, his past, the lonely nights spent sleeping in a bed that's now too big for him, wondering if Finn's scent still lingered or whether that was just his imagination. I cared about him so much, the entire book I ached at how unfair it all was for him. I think he gets the worst deal out of everyone in this book, really. I want a whole book about Toby. We get so painfully little of him in this book.
He's already been erased from Finn's life once, but now that he finally gets to reveal his presence to June, even June keeps erasing his experiences from the book, pushing them out, refusing to hear about them because of her jealousy and her anger that Toby was there when she wasn't. I guess I just hated that. How he was continually silenced by June because June was just so selfish.
Toby has such an unbelievably big heart. I would be so angry at June for some of the things that she ends up doing – but Toby is just so forgiving and caring and endlessly sweet. I adore him. He's a character who will stay in my heart forever.
I want to say that I care about the other characters in this book – and I did, really I did – but it's hard because everything pales in comparison to how much I was just enraptured by Toby and Finn's story, and all that this book wasn't telling me about their lives. I did love this book, but I also want a different book than the one I got, I guess. It gave me these tantalisingly beautiful characters and then told me so frustratingly little about them. Every time we switched from a scene with Toby to something else, I would just be rushing to get back to Toby again, because he really was the heart of the book for me.
But okay, I will say a little about the other characters. Greta, June's sister, is fascinating. The two of them used to be really close, but now they've drifted apart and Greta's completely horrible to June. But such a complex character! Her personality was so sharp – the way she's so good at acting, she could make up any story on the spot and make people believe her. The way she knows all the secrets that June doesn't. The way she's been forced to become an adult so much quicker than she wants to be; how she's really still just a scared kid, like June. I felt so much sympathy for her. I really wanted to know more about what was up with her, because she seemed so troubled and like she really needed help but I don't know whether she really got that help. I want to know what happens to her after the book.
And June? Well, to me, June is a very believable fourteen-year-old. She thinks she's different from everyone else and that no one understands her and she goes and falls in love in completely the wrong ways – I know a lot of people will find her crush on her uncle totally weird, but I guess sometimes when you're fourteen and you don't have a lot in your life to cling to, this is just what happens. I thought it was authentic and honest and June was sufficiently, adorably embarrassed about it. She's very selfish and jealous and can be utterly horrible but I just... well, I wanted to yell at her sometimes, but she was very real.
So, TELL THE WOLVES I'M HOME is about Toby and June getting to know each other, but it's also about Greta and June and their broken relationship and how they navigate it and slowly mend it. And I liked both of these things a lot. But god, every time I think about this book my thoughts always return to how devastating Toby's story is. How stupidly unfair.
I didn't want this book to end. I didn't want to leave Toby. I miss him almost as I would a real person, and I suppose that's testimony to the power of this book.