Saturday, May 18, 2013

Alone in the 80s

In Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt, the main character, June, is a 14 year old LARPing party of one.  She loves to dress up in a Gunne Sax dress and Medieval boots, go into the woods, and pretend that she has gone back in time.  Not surprisingly, June doesn't have a lot of friends her own age.  Her best friend is her uncle, Finn, who lives in New York City, and who is the only adult who pays much attention to her. 

Unfortunately, we are in the 1980s, and Finn has AIDS.  Shortly after the story begins, June loses him to the disease.  At his funeral, June learns that Finn had a man who was his "special friend", Toby.  June's family is full of accusations and hatred for Toby, and June really doesn't know why. 

June and Toby are drawn to each other by their feelings of loss for Finn.  Although their relationship is secret and fragile, they become more important to each other as the story progresses.  June's relationship with her sister, Greta, also develops.  From the beginning, June sees Greta as the perfect one.  As the outside world sees Greta's life getting better and better, June begins to see cracks in her sister's facade, and through those cracks, she sees signs of the sister who she used to be friends with.

There were a lot of good things that I really liked about this book.  However, the 1980s pop culture references were awkward.  They felt more researched than remembered.  I checked the author's bio, and was surprised to see that she is the same age as me, and lived all of her teenage years in the 80s.  What rang true, however, was our misunderstanding of AIDS, how one could get it, and how a person with AIDS should be treated.

I listened to the book on audio form.  Coincidentally, there was an article in the NYT yesterday about how the audio book reader makes the book.  I'm not sure if the NYT asks John Schwartz to write an article about great audio book readers every year, but it was his article on the topic that was published last May 18 that inspired me to listen to Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.  June, in Tell the Wolves reminded me a lot of Rose in The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender.  Aimee Bender read Particular Sadness herself, and I really liked how she made Rose sound real.  Amy Rubinate read Tell the Wolves, and I found myself wishing for Aimee Bender, even though she is an author and not an audio book reader.  I think that she would have made June sound more authentic and less dreamy.

While listening, it occurred to me that this was not my first AIDS story involving a "June."  I was thinking specifically about Three Junes by Julia Glass, which also had a character who was touched by AIDS.  I remembered though that the three Junes that Glass was referring to were months, not people.

All told, I really liked Tell the Wolves, and will definitely recommend it to friends.  The Typical Book Group will discuss it next Tuesday, so I'll talk more about it then.

Next up on CD:  Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Still Reading:  The Honey Thief by Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman


  1. I really enjoyed Wolves, but I can definitely see where you're coming from with the pop culture references. As someone who very rarely (maybe once a year on a long trip) listens to audiobooks, I'm always wondering how much the readers can impact the experience of a novel.

    Curious what you'll think of Me Before You. I think I was in the minority with that one.

  2. Me Before You actually has a whole cast of audio book readers - I think that there are 5 - which is sort of strange. Usually the one reader just uses 5 (or more) different voices or inflections. I'm only on disc 2 of 12, but it's off to a good start!


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