"'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?
THIS BOOK IS AMAZING! Yay Laura for spreading the "Tell the Wolves I'm Home" love. Yes, I cried. I discovered it while I was trying to understand the death of an old friend, and it really captures the confusion about how someone can be just not there any more. And growing up, and families, and the 1980s - it was such a lovely book. (and yes, I cried.)ReplyDelete
Aw, I'm sorry about your friend. And it really does capture all those things and more and oh my GOSH the crying. It was so wonderful and so sad and just so much everything and I just loved it (obviously...) I kind of still can't think about it without getting a bit choked up!Delete
I AM A FREAK because GUESS WHAT?! I didn't cry. Not once. Maybe I have some emotional issue or something. I loved this novel but I don't feel like it really grabbed me like everyone else. I understood that it was covering ground with a young adult narrating that isn't generally covered, but I just never really clicked with it. I finished it and thought it was a good read, but can't remember much now. I will say that I loved watching June and Toby's relationship grow (even if it does rip your heart out). It was interesting watching her learn so much about herself in such a short period. *nods in approval*ReplyDelete
I think it's fair of you to like it a lot but just not be IN love with it! I think a lot of why I cried at it has to do with how I have that emotional thing about AIDS (DAMMIT, Angels in America...) but I was just really super impressed by it, mostly. And, like, you're not saying, THIS WAS THE WORST EVER BOOK, so I'm sure you're fine :)Delete
Aww, great minds and all that 'cause my review of this book posted today, too. This one actually did NOT make me cry, which greatly surprised me, but the book was so much more substantive than I was expecting it to be.ReplyDelete
Also this: "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."
You hit the nail on the head there. That's how I feel, but I didn't know that's how I felt until I read it here.
Say WHUT?! That is so cool :). Also Alley posted hers earlier this week and daaaamn we are all reading the same books and it's AWESOME.Delete
I'm glad I could spell your feelings out to you! But yeah, their meetings were some of my favourite parts because it was like the only time June felt comfortable talking about Finn, which she needed, and it was the only time Toby had someone he could talk about Finn to who loved him (almost) as much as he did and yeah. It was just lovely/heartbreaking.
I KNOW I need to see Angels in America and/or read it.ReplyDelete
I am angry at June's mom but then I also feel bad for her because THE CHARACTERS ARE SO COMPLICATED AND WELL DONE
You really really really do. Really. I'm serious. Unless you're going to dislike it and then I won't know what to do because I like you but I REALLY like Angels in America, so. (You can totally just watch it though. Meryl Streep! Al Pacino! etc)Delete
Yessssssss that is exactly it! I was REALLY mad at her at first, and then I was like, 'but but she's sad too and awwww' and THEN she kind of redeemed herself somewhat. Like you said, totally complicated. In an awesome way.
Well you KIND of know someone who knew someone who died of AIDS...because you know ME. I'm not very traumatized by the experience, but I'll gladly share what little trauma there is with you, friend. And then when I finally get around to watching Angels in America, I will e-mail you through my tears and demand to be comforted. It's a fair trade I think.ReplyDelete
That is very true- although, to be fair, I only knew about your uncle about... two months ago, and I was already weeping over, like, Freddie Mercury dying ages before that. But let's share your trauma and I shall cuddle you and cry a lot. There. Don't we all feel better?Delete
Also YES PLEASE DO THAT! Maybe you and Alley should get together and watch it and then that'll be two less people I have to nag about it. LA and NY are really close, right?!
I really enjoyed this book, too. It was lovely. I really appreciated the sibling relationship, and I just fell in love with June for her walks in the forest pretending she lived in the Middle Ages.ReplyDelete
I really really did appreciate the sibling relationship too- I know I didn't write that much about it here, but that was probably the other thing that wasn't the Toby-June thing that really drew me into the book. Just... really complex and interesting and a little bit sad and yesssss.Delete
Also, June was totally weird and I appreciated that. I just did.
I think I almost always say this, but I need to read this!!!ReplyDelete
I'm not actually reading anything (in English) right now so i might start when I get home..
I probably almost always say this too, but YES YOU DO! It's honestly so awesome, I can't even. But don't blame me when you cryyyyyyy!Delete
Yay, so glad you loved this! And June's mom was just terrible... yeah it was a different time and yada yada, but she was just horrible.ReplyDelete
I don't think I've read any other book that featured somebody with AIDS, and the last movie I saw involving AIDS was Gia... why isn't this a thing discussed in books and movies more?
I understand June's mum to a certain extent, in that they TOLD her that it was Toby's fault, so what is she supposed to take from that, but at the same time I really really really can't forgive the funeral thing because it breaks my heart so much. There's that whole forgotten-partner-because-it's-not-a-woman thing and it just kiiiiills me.Delete
Hmmm... I'm not sure that it's not discussed a lot though! I don't know, I feel like I've seen a lot of things with AIDS in (like, if it's set in the eighties and there are gay people in it, I think I know what it's going to be about!) BUT that might just be because the things I have seen have basically broken my heart and I kind of haven't been the same since. So basically I have not answered your question at all... Hmm.
I recently rewatched Philadeplhia and OMG was I heartbroken. I think the first time I saw it, it really scared me, because HIV really was a death sentence then.ReplyDelete
I agree about the John Green teenagers. Someone at book group described them as being how teenagers like to see themselves. Which is probably why they're such a huge hit with teenagers.
Your review makes me want to give it a go. sounds pretty interesting!ReplyDelete
Marlene Detierro (Fly Fishing for Steelhead)