Although I think Tell the Wolves I’m Home is classified as a young adult novel, it has much to offer adults, too, in reading pleasure. Carol Rifka Brunt gives us a novel in which the voice of the narrator is so strong and the sense of her personality so developed that it is really outstanding.
Fourteen-year-old June Elbus is an unusual girl–a loner who likes to go to the woods and pretend she is living in the middle ages. She loves her Uncle Finn more than anyone and believes he is the only person in the world who understands her. She used to be close to her older sister Greta, but for some reason Greta has started treating her badly. So, when Finn dies of AIDS, June feels as if she has no one. The situation is made worse because it is the 1980’s, and no one understands the virus.
Something strange happens at Finn’s funeral. A man June has never seen before appears and tries to get her attention, but her sister hustles her away. Days later her uncle’s favorite teapot arrives for her with a note in it. The writer explains that he is a friend of Finn’s and asks to meet her. But Greta has told her that this friend, Toby, killed Finn.
A problem is posed by the portrait Finn spent the last months of his life painting. It is one of June and Greta, although Greta acted as if she didn’t want to sit for it. The Elbuses have the portrait in their living room until an article appears about lost works of art, including a picture of the portrait and reporting that its title is “Tell the Wolves I’m Home.” Until then, June didn’t even know her uncle was a famous artist. And who could have photographed the portrait and sent the article to the magazine?
June agrees to meet Toby but becomes jealous of him when she realizes how close he was to Finn. She is shocked to find they were partners for nine years, and she never knew he existed. June is torn because of her ambivalent feelings about Toby and the fact that they are keeping their acquaintance a secret from her parents, until she finds a note to her from Finn in a book, asking her to take care of Toby because he has no one.
Infused throughout with the voice of its teenage narrator, a girl like so many others struggling with feelings of self-doubt, trying to figure out what is right, this novel is beautiful and moving without being in the least sappy. It is really a wonderful book.