One of the best debuts from a writer, Tell the Wolves I’m Home is an emotional tour du force
Once in a while a book comes around that reminds me why I love books. It reminds me why I love books about real people. It reminds me why I don’t need an epic to feel like I’ve lived an entire life through a book. Tell the Wolves I’m Home is one of those books, which is even more impressive considering it is a debut.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home tells the story of June Elbus an appropriately weird 14-year-old girl from New York. Her love for the middle ages, which includes her going into the woods and pretending she’s from that time wearing medieval boots, is really only understood by her Uncle Finn, a retired artist from New York City. Her relationship with Finn is one that she believes no one else can understand. She loves her uncle in a way that most people love their spouse. That’s why his slow decay due to AIDS is affecting her in a way that no one else seems to understand.
However, her uncle still communicates with her through notes that he left her that are being delivered by a man that her family seems to despise. One of the notes tells her to “take care of him,” which June does out of respect for Finn, but eventually begins a relationship with the man that makes her understand what it is to love.
Coming-of-Age is a hard genre to master without falling into a formula, however where any other novel would zig, Brunt seems to zag. Her portrait of June is one of the deepest character studies I have ever read. June’s insecurities and growth are so beautifully captured in prose instead of using big set pieces. One of my favorite instances was a passage where she describes what going to a party is like for her:
“That’s what being shy feels like. Like my skin is too thin, the light too bright. Like the best place I could possibly be is in a tunnel far under the cool, dark earth. Someone asks me a question and I stare at them, empty-faced, my brain jammed up with how hard I’m trying to find something interesting to say. And in the end, all I can do is nod or shrug, because the light of their eyes looking at me, waiting for me, is just too much to take.”
Brilliant passages like that are given throughout the book and encompass so many themes. June’s relationship with everyone in her world was drawn out with so much detail. From her relationship with her mother whose own grief doesn’t seem understood to June, her relationship with Finn that represents true love, to her complicated relationship with her sister, Brunt has an understanding of the way humans interact with each other.
In the end, Tell the Wolves I’m Home is an epic meditation on love, grief, change, and the necessity of growing up that disguises itself as a young adult coming-of-age. Though the tropes of our odd heroine, major life event, and life-changing relationship are there, Brunt uses them in a way that I don’t think has been committed to the page before. 9/10