"'Don't you know? That's the secret. If you always make sure you're exactly the person you hoped to be, if you always make sure you know only the very best people, then you won't care if you die tomorrow.'"
Before I even start this review, on this book that I loved, a quick note on fiction. I have never known anyone who has had AIDS, never known anyone who has known anyone who has died of AIDS, and I was born right at the end of the eighties so it's not even a big cultural thing in my life. But, somehow, it's become the number one thing that I've never been affected by that affects me, really deeply, solely through the medium of fiction (I'm thinking mainly of Angels in America, here) which really shows its innate magic. And also how incredibly sad the entire AIDS epidemic has been and still is.
I cried a lot when I read this, is what I'm saying.
Tell The Wolves I'm Home is really so excellent. Every single character is well drawn, the writing is beautiful and the situations are real, and upsetting, and I believed every single one of them. The story focuses on June, our narrator and basically the best fourteen year old character I can think of*- her favourite thing is to go out into the woods and pretend she's in medieval times and, although I never did that specifically, I was like 'YES! That is how some teenagers are, not precocious idiots *side eyes John Green.*' June very much goes her own way, and it's not set up so that that's something she does because it's cool, it's something she does because it's what she likes to do.
The only person who understands June (or so she believes) is her Uncle Finn, and basically on the first page we find out that he's dying. Since he's gay and it's the eighties, he's obviously dying of AIDS, and even though his death happens early on, he casts this shadow of how awesome he was over the whole of the rest of the book. It's really interesting to read because there's no sense of everyone this whole family grieving together for Finn, and that leaves you to wonder exactly how everyone else is feeling while June is doing her thing (this is because the other characters are all really good. Did I mention that?)
What I like a lot about this book is the way June actually has to grow up, rather than already being in a state of over-grownupness. There are a lot of complicated relationships that she doesn't always grasp at first, and she has to deal with finding out facts about her mum that are almost too horrible to bear (I find it hard to forgive her mother) as well as a sister who seems to hate her except when she decides that she doesn't (I have both been this sister, and had this sister. I can relate). It's all quite fraught, but never overdone, and I just really cared about everything that happened to everyone and MY GOD would you just read this already so I don't have to keep finding words for things I don't have words for?
And then there was the best/worst parts. (I don't consider this a spoiler because it's more or less spelled out in the blurb on the back of my book, but if you really don't want to know any plot details then don't read it, because I want to discuss it so there.) After Finn's death, June finds out that he had a secret boyfriend (secret only from her and her sister, because of her mum's aforementioned horribleness), Toby, who she comes to see as the only other person who misses Finn as much as she does. Toby makes me unspeakably sad- he kind of represents all the secret partners of gay men, the ones who nursed them through their final hours, only to find themselves excluded from their funerals and nooooo I can't cope with it** and please can't we all agree that it's much better that we live in a world where same-sex partnerships are acknowledged and even celebrated (in some states and in a civil-uniony way in the UK)? Yes, we can.
But anyway. Toby and June hanging out were probably some of my favourite parts of the book, because you really see a relationship grow from mistrust (and even a bit of hatred) to understanding, and then even something that's a little bit like love. More than maybe anyone else in the book, these are two characters who really need each other, and I think I needed them to need each other, to make at least something in this book a little less heartrending.
I'm not going to pretend that this book isn't going to upset you, and it will probably make you cry, but it is so, so worth it. It's one of my favourite books that I've read all year, I can't remember one I've thought about so much when I wasn't reading it, and I've been putting off its return to the library*** because I can't quite bear to let it go yet. I honestly can't imagine the kind of person who won't be affected by it, and that's why I want everyone to read it because, God, I haven't snuffly sobbed like that since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and that is saying a LOT. Please read it and I will offer you a tissue and a shoulder to cry on and then we'll discuss how good this book is.
NOTE: Shout out to both Tika and Megs, without whom I probably wouldn't have even known about this book, let alone actually read it. Also their reviews are awesome and perhaps more, um, coherant, so READ THEM.
*Except for Mattie Ross. But they're the best in different ways, so it's fine. Why am I reading so many books involving teenagers this year?!
**Genuinely. I have been putting off writing this because 1) I loved it so much, and 2) I didn't want to cry some more, and I think I'm doing a pretty good job of 1) Being incoherent, and 2) crying.
***Why are the books I get from the library always so much better than the books I own?