30 July 2015

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

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka BruntYou shouldn't judge a book by its cover or by its title. Despite the glowing reviews of Carol Rifka Brunt's debut novel, Tell the Wolves I'm Home, there was something superficially off-putting to me (title? cover?), which meant I kept pushing this book to the bottom of my reading list.

Last week I was looking through my audiobook stash and decided to finally give the novel a chance. Within minutes I was spellbound and ended up finishing Tell the Wolves I'm Home, in a combination of reading and listening, all in one go.

If you want the bottom line, then here you go: A beautifully written, emotionally strong coming-of-age story with an authentic point of view and underlying themes of family and acceptance.

What's it about: Fourteen-year-old June Elbus has always felt at odds with the world, feeling understood only when she's with her uncle Finn exploring New York City. His death, in 1987, of a disease no one understood, leaves June anchorless on a black sea of grief. Just days after the funeral, though, she learns of a mysterious man named Toby, whom her mother accuses of killing Finn. As kids do, June has only ever seen Finn in terms of their special relationship. Although she was aware he was gay, she now realizes she may have never truly known him and that Toby may be the key to understanding who her uncle really was.

Being gay in the late 1980s: Set in the worst period of the AIDS epidemic, before the drug cocktails and when fear and judgments were running high, the novel also explores gay issues, as June discovers the parts of Finn's life that had been hidden from her. Brunt, writing from June's perspective, carefully and sensitively addresses Finn's lifestyle and sacrifices, keeping the voice of the young girl believable and true.

Siblings: Tell the Wolves I'm Home explores two sets of siblings: Finn and Danni (June's mother), and June and her older sister, Greta. Here again, Brunt has the relationships just right--that familiar mix of love and competition, protectiveness and exasperation. In addition, both sets of siblings go through the cycles of being close when young and then drifting apart when they start along their own paths. Sibling dynamics is one of the strongest themes in the novel, and anyone who has a brother or sister will see the truth here.

Other themes: Trust, loyalty, being comfortable in one's own skin, finding oneself, battling external expectations against your own wants, parenting, art, obligations to one's talents, love, grief, acceptance, forgiveness

Recommendation: Just read the damn book. Seriously. And if you haven't read it since it first came out, consider a reread.

Audiobook: The unabridged audiobook edition (Blackstone; 11 hr, 46 min) is brilliantly read by Amy Rubinate. Her voice is utterly believable as June: her inflections and emotions are perfect as is her level of drama. Tell the Wolves I'm Home is one of the best audiobooks I've ever listened to.

Published by Random House / Dial Press, 2013 (paperback)
ISBN-13: 9780812982855
Source: Review (print) & bought (audiobook) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


rhapsodyinbooks 7/30/15, 7:01 AM  

I can't believe you waited all this time to read it! LOL But also I'm jealous - I would love to have a book that good to be reading for the first time! :--)

Vicki 7/30/15, 7:24 AM  

Great review! It has me wanting to get a copy and see for myself how good this book is.

(Diane) bookchickdi 7/30/15, 7:39 AM  

I have this one too and haven't read it yet. I agree with you about the cover, it doesn't grab your attention, but your review sure did.

Amanda 7/30/15, 8:39 AM  

After Shaina read/reviewed this one, I grabbed the audio for it and tried it out. I don't think the audio portion will work for me, but I kept it on my list of things to try in print later on, because the story itself seems like it might be a good one for me.

Sarah (Sarah's Book Shelves) 7/30/15, 8:43 AM  

I've had the same off-putting feeling as you! But, I keep hearing how wonderful it is...maybe I'll give it a sot after all!

bermudaonion 7/30/15, 8:46 AM  

My book club read this last year after one member declared it her favorite book of all time. The rest of us ended up liking it a lot but not quite loving it. I think her glowing praise was hard to live up to for all of us.

Karen White 7/30/15, 9:13 AM  

I loved this book because I felt so connected to the time and place (I lived in NY right after college during this time period). So glad the audiobook was a success for you, too!

Unknown 7/30/15, 11:30 AM  

I really like the idea of exploring the life of a gay man in the 1980s through the viewpoint of a fourteen-year-old. Children don't have the prejudices and assumptions that adults have, so their views are often more honest and fresh. I'll definitely put this book on my TBR list.

Gayle Weiswasser 7/30/15, 11:31 AM  

Didn't love this as much as you did. I felt that the middle was repetitive, with the characters falling into the same patterns over and over, and was frustrated by the bad choices June kept making.

Linda 7/30/15, 12:44 PM  

I enjoyed this one quite a bit. I should revisit it sometime. Great review.

Unknown 7/30/15, 2:51 PM  

I got this one not long after it came out, but have never made the time to read it. I should sort that, huh?

Tina 7/31/15, 9:55 AM  

You sold me on this one!

Sue Jackson 8/2/15, 9:21 AM  

So glad you finally read (listened to) this one!! I absolutely loved it, too, as did all of my neighborhood book group (and it's rare for us to all agree on a book!). Like you, I thought she captured sibling relationships - and the experience of being a teen and growing up - just perfectly.

Glad you enjoyed it!


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Anonymous,  8/2/15, 5:37 PM  

I absolutely loved this book. I am so glad you did too!

JoAnn 8/2/15, 10:45 PM  

One of my favorites from a few years ago... definitely time for a reread! Audio this time :)

Daryl 8/3/15, 12:55 PM  

sounds like an excellent read ... cover art aside

Aarti 8/4/15, 11:33 AM  

I'm so glad you read this! And doesn't the cover art kind of make sense now that you have finished it?

I am also glad to know that the audio version is so good. I read it on my Kindle, but maybe if I do a reread, I'll do it via audio.

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