Compassionate, brave, beautifully written. Five stars for an engrossing, literary YA tale.

“1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life—someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart. 

At Finn’s funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn’s apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she’s not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most. 

An emotionally charged coming-of-age novel, 
Tell the Wolves I’m Home is a tender story of love lost and found, an unforgettable portrait of the way compassion can make us whole again.”

This is another synopsis that doesn’t really do the book justice. Here’s what it’s really about: the unlikely, star-crossed friendship between a fourteen-year-old oddball girl and a bereft middle-aged man with AIDS.

To a lesser extent, it’s about the the girl (June) navigating her changing relationship with her sister.

Broadly speaking, it’s a book about June trying to grow up in a society not designed to understand her feelings, her wants, or her loves.

I’d be taking care of Toby. It would be romantic. Not lovey-dovey romantic, the other kind. It would be the best I could possibly do.”

carol rifka brunt, Tell the wolves I’m home (June-narration)
Cover for the paperback edition (which I read from)

If you can’t tell from the cover and subject matter, this book is a very *puts on spectacles* serious one. This is a quiet, slow, literary read, so you have to be ready to sink your teeth and your heart into a book that’ll make you work for it.

That’s not the same as the book being boring, and boring it isn’t. I was completely engrossed by this story. Brunt’s prose is gorgeous but not at all showy–like the book itself, the writing is subtle and heartfelt, never ostentatious.

The relationships centered in Tell the Wolves I’m Home (June’s difficult-to-define closeness with her uncle, then Toby) feel deeply real–and they should, because relationships like that exists. I rarely see anything like them in fiction, much less YA, for obvious reasons. They’re amazingly difficult to get right, hard to pin-down enough for accurate jacket copy, and most of all, they’re a little uncomfortable.

Brunt doesn’t flinch from portraying these relationships honestly, including the beautiful and the uncomfortable. Even as June sometimes worries that she’s being silly, the narrative always treats her feelings with the greatest validity and seriousness. The form of the book actually ends up looking rather grand; it’s as though Brunt has taken the structure of a “forbidden romance” story and repurposed it for an unlikely friendship.

Nobody will care that he’s gay. He’s an adult. That’s all. He’s an adult and you’re a kid, and that’s all anyone will see.”

-Carol Rifka Brunt, Tell the Wolves I’m Home (Greta)

I’m also so happy to read some YA with a younger protagonist. This book was published in 2012, and YA has changed a ton since then, with one result being the aging-up of the market. I rarely see fourteen-year-olds as lead characters anymore.

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