Tell the Wolves I’m Home

by Kathleen on October 24, 2012

1987 is hardly the year you expect to have a sense of nostalgia for.  Or not quite nostalgia, but specific sense of time.  It seems too close, too recently remembered.

But, as Carol Rifka Brunt captures in Tell the Wolves I’m Home, it is a full lifetime ago.  Brunt paints the year with a million little details: air popped popcorn, “Blister in the Sun,” computer classes where they tried to teach us all to program, because that was the only IT application anyone could imagine.  The detritus of everyday life is just thick enough to elicit a smile of recognition, and to lay the foundation for the one big detail: AIDS.

A few years later, there would be after-school specials and safe-sex assemblies, celebrity announcements and red ribbons.  But in 1987, there was mostly fear, and a confused sense that something very big was happening.

Which, when you think about it, is a pretty fair description of adolescence, too.  For Brunt’s June Elbus, the angst of being fourteen is intertwined with the pain of her beloved uncle’s death.  That Finn died from a disease her mother can barely name makes her grief that much less comprehensible; that her once-close older sister will barely speak to June makes her isolation that much less bearable.  And then June meets Toby, the longtime partner Finn kept secret at his sister’s insistence, and her grief and isolation peak, then implode.  Brunt balances the small and large dramas perfectly, giving weight to every threat with kindness and clarity.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home is messy, and painful, and morally complicated.  It’s coming-apart and coming-of-age and coming-to-terms.  It’s the kind of story that’s not quite comfortable to read, and not quite possible to put down.

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