Hello impulse buy--and one of the best purchases I've made in ages.
I've been on a quest to diversify my reading, not only in genre, but also in aspects of representation. The back flap summarizes the plot pretty succinctly, but just to make sure I'd understood it correctly, a quick Google search confirmed that, yes, Uncle Finn is gay, and his romantic relationship is a secret the protagonist, June, discovers as she grieves.
But this story goes a few steps further into waters I'd consider fairly uncharted.
This is the first book I've read with an arguably asexual protagonist. I use the term arguably because of the protagonist's age, and how the focus on the book isn't her sexual drive, but her learning and understanding the breadth and depth of the love she feels and experiences. However, page 59 reads, "I wasn’t interested in drinking beer or vodka or smoking cigarettes or doing all the other things Greta thinks I can’t even imagine. I don’t want to imagine those things. Anyone can imagine things like that. I want to imagine wrinkled time, and forests thick with wolves, and bleak midnight moors. I dream about people who don’t need to have sex to know they love each other. I dream about people who would only ever kiss you on the cheek." Readers will interpret June's character as they see fit, but loathe am I to impose any manner of sexuality on a 14 year old, fictional or not. I just think, given the circumstances, how she so extensively discusses love and how she so vaguely discusses lust--with personal disinterest with maybe a hint of disdain--an older, more worldly June might identify as asexual.
Love is the central theme of this book, and all its various incarnations. June says, on pages 273-274, almost reiterating the thesis of her story, "I thought of all the different kinds of love in the world. I could think of ten without even trying. The way parents love their kid, the way you love a puppy or chocolate ice cream or home or your favorite book or your sister. Or your uncle. There’s those kinds of loves and then there’s the other kind. The falling kind. Husband-and-wife love, girlfriend-and-boyfriend love, the way you love an actor in a movie."
Everyone in Finn's delightfully adventurous life loves him, absolutely everyone; and that love is so powerful in the people who feel it, they become covetous of one another, each scrambling selfishly to keep who they knew Finn to be, and who Finn was to them, to themselves. This manifests itself most openly and genuinely in June, the young protagonist who doesn't have the tools or support to understand the depth of her loss.
"Really, June," [her mother] said, "I’m the one who should be sad...I simply will not allow you to continue moping around the way you’ve been. It’s out of all proportion. This feeling-sorry-for-yourself business. I’m the one who should be a mess, June. I’m the one who lost a brother" (Brunt, 168).
June doesn't even understand who Finn was to her, really, until he's gone.
This is a story of a family falling apart, and then falling together, how grief shatters the individual into a violent solitude that lashes out to keep its isolation. How, in grieving, a person can become selfish, and the pain becomes a competition that invalidates the pain of those around them who are also hurting. It resonates with me on a personal level, some quotes hauntingly familiar and echoing in a different voice from years ago.
June is romantic, passionate, insufferable, immature, cruel, frustrating, and above all, hurting. She's young and alone and struggling to make sense of her world--in her head, in her heart, and in what she experiences. She's ultimately compassionate, better, in that sense, than nearly anyone else in her life, and in being forgiven, learns to forgive herself for her childish and cruel impulses. June is human, and brings into glaring focus all the ugliness of loss no one ever wants to discuss candidly. Brunt does a fantastic job of keeping the world within June's scope and understanding, while conveying complex emotions and interactions efficiently to an adult audience.
I loved this book so much I gifted it to someone in a holiday book exchange this past Christmas. At times, I wanted to throttle June. At others, I wanted to hug her. And maybe in June, I found a bit of myself: an understanding and a distance, a safe way to project my own childhood loss and emotionally callous transgressions--and in that, forgiveness.
Tell the Wolves I'm Home is dynamic and organic, honest and brutal. It cuts fresh wounds and tears open old scars, bloodletting emotions too raw and toxic to safely express.
Go. Read it. Love it.