Tell The Wolves I’m Home (2012) by Carol Rifka Brunt was a achingly beautiful novel about grief, families, growing up, and being different, set in 1986-1987 in New York. The teenage narrator, June, and her sister, Greta, visit their Uncle Finn every weekend in the City so that he can paint their portrait. Finn is June’s godfather. June and Greta used to be close, but as they’ve gotten older, they’ve drifted apart. Greta is the uber-snarky older sister, and I would describe June as a “wise old soul” who is in love with her Uncle, who is gay and dying of AIDS. It’s impossible love, and she knows it, but can’t help what she feels.
She doesn’t understand why her family has cut Finn’s partner, Toby, out, (she never met him before Finn dies despite spending so much time with her Uncle) but is told it’s because Toby gave Finn AIDS. As with most things, she finds out there’s more to the story. Toby reaches out after Finn’s death, and so, without the knowledge of her parents, June agrees to meet Toby, initially for a selfish reason–so she can hear stories about Finn she’s never heard and so keep him in her heart longer. Finn seems to have pushed them together, and June learns the truth. But her sister seems to be in crisis, too, and she never realized that so much of what she loved about Finn was actually the hidden Toby, who is also dying.
I loved it, and it was very nearly free from fatphobia. In a couple of scenes at the beginning of the novel, June refers to Finn, Greta, and her mother as having similar bone structure: they all have “the same slim bones” and are “slight,” as opposed to herself, who is not slight. And she referred to herself and her father as “the lumbering ones, the misshapen bears.” Because there was no reference to fatness or diet culture anywhere else in the book, I was not terribly offended by these references, as I thought that differing bone structures in a family can be acknowledged outside of being fatphobic. However, I do recognize that these thoughts of the main character illuminate society’s general preference for thinness as opposed to largeness, or taking up space. Without that preference, June might not have wished to be slight or have slim bones, and might have been proud to be large and strong like her father.
Overall, I loved it, and so did most everyone in my book group.