Author: Carol Rifka Brunt

Publisher: Dial Press

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8285-5

A young friend who can recognize quality writing gave me Carol Rifka Brunt's debut novel, Tell the Wolves I'm Home. Because the narrator is a precocious fourteen-year-old girl and because she comes to understand some profound life lessons by the last page, I am afraid the book will be slotted into the "young-adult, coming-of-age" ghetto and readers who avoid young-adult, coming-of-age stories (I'm one of them) will miss an insightful and moving experience.

June Elbus lives in Westchester County, north of New York City, with her accountant parents and sixteen-year-old sister, Greta. The girls are the nieces of Finn Weiss, a prominent artist who, although he has shown nothing for ten years, is painting a dual portrait of the girls when the book opens in 1986.

June has no intimate school friends and Greta, for reasons June does not understand, has her own teen-age angst. June is closest to her uncle Finn, her godfather, confidant, and best friend, so she is devastated when he dies of AIDS. Finn does manage to finish the painting, which the family hangs in their living room. After Finn's death a story about him and the portrait—"its current location unknown"—appears in the New York Times. A Sotheby's expert estimates that, based on Finn's past sales and that this is apparently his last work, the painting, titled "Tell the Wolves I'm Home" could sell for $700,000. Or more.

June was not the only person who loved Finn, however. A stranger shows up at Finn's funeral—a stranger to June but not to her mother who says the man is the person who murdered her brother.

As June comes to realize Toby was her uncle's lover. And while she assumes some of her mother's attitude, she slowly, slowly—and plausibly—comes to befriend Toby. 

Toby lives in Finn's apartment. Toby and Finn had a life together that June knew nothing about. Toby and June help each other come to terms over their grief at Finn's death—without, of course, letting June's mother know.

In addition to an interesting narrative to pull the reader through, Brunt writes wonderfully well. Here is a quick description of a bank's room in which safe deposit customers can look in their boxes privately: "The room had a rich look about it, with dark red wallpaper that went only halfway up the wall and curvy molding around the ceiling that looked old fashioned. It was like the bank wanted your valuable stuff to feel at home in its new little room, far away from its real home."

I was impressed by Brunt's ability to convey June's grief: "I started to walk away, but then I turned back. I decided to stop even trying to hold back the tears. I decided to stand there under an awning on Madison Avenue and let Toby see me. Let him understand that I missed Finn just as much as he did. And once I started, there was no way of stopping. Everything that had been squashed down and pressed into a hard tight ball int he center of my heart came undone. I stood there, shaking and heaving on Madison Avenue in front of Toby, waiting for him to run away or shove me into a taxi, but he didn't. He stepped in, put his long arms around me, and leaned his head on my shoulder . . . "

Tell the Wolves I'm Home held my interest throughout. And while in retrospect it feels as if fourteen-year-old June is perceptive beyond her years, I didn't feel that while I was reading. While I was reading, I was immersed in June's world, in her perceptions, her experiences, her thoughts—and thoroughly enjoying myself.