30. A Book I Couldn’t Put Down

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brown

An honest look at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic through the eyes of a 14-year-old girl via her relationship with her uncle.

Carol Rifka Brown places you firmly in the 80s and then proceeds to “tug your heart in a million different ways,” as one of the book group members put it.

__________________SPOILERS AHOY! AHOY!_________________

We cried.

I was worried at the beginning that this book would be just depressing hit after depressing hit. And it was. But Carol Rifka Brown balances the heartache with honest, tender, beautiful moments that don’t feel manipulative; they feel like a family truly wrestling with life.

This book was very nostalgic. For anyone that lived through the 80s, you’ll go back to the terror and paranoia of that time regarding the disease. The scene when Danni freaks out over Greta’s use of the Chapstick reminded me of all the rumors that were spread on how people were contracting the disease. And when the book announced the invention of AZT, I was reminded of how far we’ve come. Brown handles these complicated situations with a deft hand and successfully turns this horrible time in history into a book that celebrates life, love, and the necessary awkwardness of our teenage years.

As a group, we mostly revisited the moments in the book that rang true with us. We talked straight for 2 hours, which is rare for a book that all of us liked. Usually when we all like a book, the conversation peters out a half an hour in and we move on. But we wanted to linger with these characters a little longer.

One of the members said he was apprehensive because he didn’t want to read “another AIDS book.” I agreed; not because the stories aren’t important, just that there are so many of them now and hindsight is 20/20. This book is not another AIDS book. June’s POV expands the narration beyond the disease and examines its effects on the people left, the people living now. Speaking of which, I really appreciated how June’s awkward and self-conscious teenage years pushed forward the events of the novel.

Even the peripheral characters—Mr. Elbus, Ben, Greta—were given unexpected depth in the very few words that described them. Other complications in these three character’s lives are hinted at and written in a way that elevated the story’s tension.

We discussed whether we thought the narration was written from the standpoint of June as an adult, or from the standpoint of June as a slightly older teenager. Her heartache and guilt felt very immediate. But that kind of emotion lingers in the body a while. So, I believe there’s no answer there.

Then, we shared our ideas of the significance of the title of the book. Each of us that shared had a different take on its meaning. That’s the sign of a good title.

I can’t express enough how important I believe this book is. It will/should be a key source for people who didn’t live through the onset of HIV/AIDS to understand the world at that time. I think it will be a long time before I read it again because it was such an emotionally taxing read, but the shattering of June’s perception of her perfect Uncle Finn was actually the culmination of Finn and Toby’s life together will stay with me for a very long time. I’m tearing up just typing about it.

Read this book.

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