Tell the Wolves I’m Home is Carol Rifka Brunt’s debut novel, and what a debut it is. I picked this book up on a whim—I was intrigued by the title and wanted to know what it meant. What I got in return was a book of such beauty and heartbreaking emotion that I will be recommending it to anyone who will sit still long enough to listen.
The novel centers on fourteen-year-old June Elbus, who lives in New York City in 1987. June is something of a loner, a girl who spends her afternoons wandering in the woods, imagining that she is living in medieval times. Nobody understands her quiet like her uncle and godfather, Finn. But when Finn dies, a void is left in June’s life that she thinks she will never be able to fill. That is, until she receives a package from Toby, a man she has never met. The two strike up an unlikely friendship, and June soon discovers that she isn’t the only one who cared about Finn.
June’s voice balances between childish and mature, between being wise for her years and naïve. She prefers to watch others, observing the world around her instead of actively participating. Early on in the story, June thinks, “Watching people is a good hobby, but you have to be careful about it. You can’t let people catch you staring at them. If people catch you, they treat you like a first-class criminal. And maybe they’re right to do that. Maybe it should be a crime to try to see things about people they don’t want you to see.” The reader can relate to June’s struggle to find where she belongs and figure out what she believes is right.
This book is ultimately a story of love. Brunt tackles the huge questions of why and how we love, and the ways that love can change us—for better or worse. She explores the ways in which we are changed by love, how it can lift us up or tear us down in jealousy and anger. Familial love, romantic love, and forbidden love are all deftly explored in their many nuances and complicated forms.
Another great strength of Brunt’s in this book is the way she writes her characters. Each character in this book is imperfect and flawed, but each one is written with such insight and depth that by the end you understand them, even if you do not like them or forgive their actions. Instead of making some of her characters “good” and some “bad,” Brunt writes them with as much flawed humanity as real people.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home is a quiet book. Its pages are not packed with action and fight scenes. But it is a book that weaves its way into your mind and stays there, long after you finish the last page. There are moments of levity and humor, and then there are touching, poignant lines that will beg to be read over and over again. The reader feels what June feels. After a particularly tragic revelation, June remarks, “And the sadness in that stretched like a thin cold river down the length of my whole life.” We feel that cold river.
If you are looking for a book that gives an unflinching look at love, family, grief and healing, then give Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt a chance. I for one am definitely looking forward to whatever she writes next.