book by Carol Rifka Brunt
annotation by Douglas Menagh
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt is a coming of age story about June Elbus, a 14 year old high school girl living in upstate New York. The novel takes place in 1987, just as her beloved uncle, a painter named Finn Weiss, is dying from AIDS. Following Finn’s death, his partner Toby connects with June. Although distrustful of Toby at first, June soon develops a connection with Toby. The two help each other cope with and heal from the loss of Finn. Eventually, June and Toby develop a friendship in their own right.
What is beautiful about Tell the Wolves I’m Home is the way Carol Rifka Brunt presents June’s character arc. This is a story about how the loss of Finn brings Toby into June’s life and how that friendship affects her development. While June is skeptical about Toby at first, she grows to love him because she finds that the characteristics of Finn live on through his partner. This causes June to wonder, “What if everything I loved about Finn had really come from Toby?” (148). June realizes that Finn had adopted the behavior of Toby because they cared for each other and emulated one another. June experiences this first hand in her relationship with Toby. By caring for him, she picks up some of his habits and evolves as a character. On her own transformation because of Toby, June reflects, “And right then it was almost impossible to believe that there was a whole other me, who drank Volcano Bowls and smoked cigarettes and took care of people who used to be strangers” (286). Brunt demonstrates through character arc that, despite loss, loved ones live on by passing along their characteristics.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home affected my own understanding of who my characters are and how to create their arc. The growth of characters through personal loss was very useful to me when I was writing about grief in my own coming of age novel. My novel is about a family grappling with the death of a father and the resulting loss of each member’s identity in the wake of the loss. The characters in my book began to imitate the qualities and characteristics of their lost loved one. Through this process, they were able to regain a sense of self and become who they were always meant to be.
June’s character is revealed wonderfully through the first person. She is a deep and complicated character, though introverted. June loves medieval times, and this pining obsession for a world now gone colors her perspective. “The Cloisters are the best because they’re like a piece of another time right at the top of Manhattan. And I’m not just saying that. They’re actually made of huge chunks of French medieval monasteries that were shipped to New York and stuck together” (64). The way June sees life gives the book elements found in lyrical fantasies and builds the world in the novel. Her longing for the medieval world correlates with her pursuit of traces of her lost uncle. June’s connection to medieval times helped me understand my own characters’ affinity to history and how nostalgia plays a role as a coping mechanism in dealing with loss. I found this useful as a writer because the characters in my own novel feel nostalgia for other time periods just like they do for loved ones now gone. This book made me realize that there is a connection between longing for a place in time and longing for a person.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home was informative of my own process in writing a work of fiction about characters coping with loss and overcoming grief. June’s transformation and the change in her worldview influenced how my own characters heal and come of age. June discovers that Finn lives on in the present through the loved ones still alive. Later on, June says, “I didn’t know what Toby was trying to do at first, but I took a long slow breath of his coat and there, like, magic, was Finn. The exact smell of Finn” (273). This perspective showed me the way my characters could also cope and heal from their loss. By discovering ways in which loved ones live on in the present, my characters were able to heal in dramatic and unexpected ways.