Writer captures perceptions of AIDS in the '80s
"Tell the Wolves I'm Home: A Novel" (Dial Press, 2012) by Carol Rifka Brunt is a coming of age story of love, grief and renewal as two lonely people become unlikely friends.
The only person who really understands 15-year-old June Elbus is her uncle and the renowned painter Finn Weiss. June is shy at school; her older sister Greta, with whom she was once close, has turned mean and nasty. Finn, her godfather, confidante and, to her shame, secret crush, shares her love of the medieval era and introduces her to the glories of Mozart's "Requiem."
June's world is turned upside down when Finn dies of a terrible disease that her mother initially talks about only by tracing the letters A-I-D-S onto a table. At the funeral, June glimpses a strange man lingering at the edge of the crowd. June soon learns that the man, Toby, was Finn's "special friend," as her mother puts it.
Despite her initial mistrust, June forms a clandestine friendship with her uncle's partner, since her family hates Toby and blames him for Finn's illness. They work through their grief, talking about Finn's art and passion for life. June comes to learn more about Finn, herself and the nature of love.
Brunt absolutely captures the attitudes toward AIDS and the gay community in the mid-to-late 1980s: the homophobia, the stigma surrounding AIDS, the ignorance and of course the pain of losing so many loved ones. Readers today who are not old enough to remember the AIDS crisis may shake their heads at June's worry that Finn might have infected her by kissing her on the top of the head, but it's important to remember that misinformation about the transmission of the virus was rampant at that time.
It was international news in 1987 when Princess Diana visited an AIDS hospital and shook hands with one of the patients without wearing gloves, to make the point that the virus could not be transmitted though normal contact; that same year, however, police wearing long yellow rubber gloves arrested protesters at an AIDS conference.
"Tell the Wolves I'm Home" is a 2013 winner of the Young Adult Library Services Association's Alex Award, given to books written for adults that have special appeal to teens. Be forewarned: This beautiful book may very well have you doing the ugly cry.
Sara Latta is a children's science writer and author of 17 books. You can learn more about her work and link to past reviews athttp://www.saralatta.com.