Tell the Wolves I'm Home, Carol Rifka Brunt

Friday, January 19, 2018

I love all things 1980s, the decade when I came of age in my small Chicago suburb. I don't think I'm alone in the nostalgic feelings I have for the decade, and it can be easy to romanticize the period you grew up in as somehow idyllic compared to the present. But the truth is, while I was having a great time in high school and college, not everthing was so rosy.  Housing discrimination based on race was still rampant, gender pay equity was even worse than it is now, and the queer community was still reviled and forced to live in hiding in many places around the country. The general fear of and disgust for members of the LGBTQ+ community was exacerbated by the AIDS crisis, which was portrayed in the media as a plague brought on by immoral behavior and inflicted on the unsuspecting "normal" people by degenerates. This is the backdrop for the novel Tell the Wolves I'm Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt.

At the center of Brunt's story is June, whose beloved uncle Finn, the one person in her family that really saw her, has recently died of AIDS. Her family is full of anger and grief, with a side of shame and embarrassment at the cause of Finn's death. While the rest of her family tries to move on, June is stuck in a deep, dark hole of sadness, sure that no one will ever love her again the way that her uncle did. Into this void in June's life comes Toby, a stranger who somehow misses Finn as much as June does, and once they begin spending time together, their friendship causes profound changes in both of their lives.

As a legally married, queer woman living in a liberal suburban town with plenty of love and support from family and friends, it can be easy for me to forget that it wasn't that long ago my life would have been impossible, or at least much, much harder. I know that even by today's standards I am lucky to have always been supported by the people in my life; my parents, sibling, friends. We still have plenty of work to do to make sure that everyone in the queer community is safe and supported and accepted by both their families and communities and society at large. But in the late 80s, at the height of the AIDS crisis, the queer community was, quite literally, fighting for it's life. Tell the Wolves I'm Home does a good job of bringing that period to life, and while we see everything from the point of view of a straight, cisgender teenager, I think that Brunt really creates the feeling of fear and intolerance and shame that characterized that time for many in the quer community. She also does a good job with recreating the 1980s generally, which I will admit was part of the appeal of the book for me.

I thought that the story took too long to get to the friendship between Toby and June, but I was the only one at my book club who thought so, so maybe it's just me. I thought the book could have been about 75 pages shorter had she just moved it along a little. June and Toby are very rich and developed, but the other members of June's family are a little less so. They felt pretty one-dimensional, and frankly not that sympathetic, until somewhere towards the end of the book, when you finally get some explanations for why they are acting the way they are. The story kept my attention despite these minor flaws, and the emotional pay-off ended up being worth the extra pages and slightly underdeveloped characters. Overall I'd recommend this one.


  1. I loved this book. I think I'm older than you are, so I don't have quite the rosy thoughts about the 80s, but I thought the author did a great job depicting the time period and developing the relationship between June and Toby.

    1. I really did enjoy it a lot, and I think for a first novel it is really well done. I'm curious to see how she does with her next book. Thanks for visiting!


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