Book Review: Tell The Wolves I'm Home
“The sun kept on with its slipping away, and I thought how many small good things in the world might be resting on the shoulders of something terrible.”
Carol Rifka Brunt
There are so many reasons I enjoy writing a blog, but one of the biggest benefits is how I get random text messages like this:
I was JUST debating what to read and presto! Decision made.
The cover of Tell The Wolves I'm Home was familiar since the title is featured at Barnes & Noble, Target, and half of the airport bookstores I pass, but what's with the title?
I didn't have a clue what it was supposed to mean. (I can be so literalistic!)
But Kristen said it was great and that's enough of an endorsement for me (Kathy, Ryan, Sue - your texts have the same impact). I jumped and was immediately engrossed and more than a little jealous.
Was this really Ms. Brunt's FIRST novel? Dang can that girl write!!!
I don't want to give up the plot line, in part because I won't do the story justice, but also because my description may make you think the book is about one thing when it's really about another.
How about I just quote the jacket blurb...
"An emotionally charged coming-of-age novel, Tell the Wolves I’m Home is a tender story of love lost and found, an unforgettable portrait of the way compassion can make us whole again."
There's not much there, so let me add three reasons why I love this book:
Not since reading A Secret History have I had the characters jump off the page. Maybe it's the first-person narrative, but I felt like I was IN the skin of fourteen-year-old June, a quirky, shy, sad girl. Listen to her describe her shyness. Pardon the length, but I really couldn't decide where to stop. Read slowly because in this snippet you can hear the voice of every shy person:
“That's what being shy feels like. Like my skin is too thin, the light too bright. Like the best place I could possibly be is in a tunnel far under the cool, dark earth. Someone asks me a question and I stare at them, empty-faced, my brain jammed up with how hard I'm trying to find something interesting to say. And in the end, all I can do is nod or shrug, because the light of their eyes looking at me, waiting for me, is just too much to take. And then it's over and there's one more person in the world who thinks I'm a complete and total waste of space.
The worst thing is the stupid hopefulness. Every new party, every new bunch of people, and I start thinking that maybe this is my chance. That I'm going to be normal this time. A new leaf. A fresh start. But then I find myself at the party, thinking, Oh, yeah. This again.
So I stand on the edge of things, crossing my fingers, praying nobody will try to look me in the eye. And the good thing is, they usually don't.”
Can't you just feel her pain?
I had a dream about June last night. Isn't that crazy?
I don't know precisely how I develop my appreciation for any particular book, but part of my impression comes from how the writing looks and feels on a page. Does the writer show-off their vocabulary or are they committed to finding the most elegant language possible? Do they enjoy what they write? Do they like their characters and give them intelligent ideas?
Ultimately I want the tone to fit the characters. In Tell The Wolves I'm Home, everything works. Some short quotes to whet your appetite:
"I felt like I had proof that not all days are the same length, not all time has the same weight. Proof that there are worlds and worlds and worlds on top of worlds, if you want them to be there.”
“None of those things should have mattered, but I guess they did. I guess they were like water. Soft and harmless until enough time went by. Then all of a sudden you found yourself with the Grand Canyon on your hands.”
“I stared out the window for the rest of the journey. Building, tree, car, car, van, wall, vacant lot, van. I stared hard, trying to find a pattern. Thinking if I kept looking hard enough, maybe the pieces of the world would fit back together into something I could understand.”
Even completely out of context, these thoughts are beautiful!
Finally, what I found particularly moving was how June saw life. She recognized prejudice and pain without judging; she recognized sorrow and faced it with courage; she was wronged and she forgave. Throughout her journey, her insights were remarkable.
In the paragraph below she comments on her Dad's commitment to a job he didn't enjoy.
“I really wondered why people were always doing what they didn't like doing. It seemed like life was a sort of narrowing tunnel. Right when you were born, the tunnel was huge. You could be anything. Then, like, the absolute second after you were born, the tunnel narrowed down to about half that size. You were a boy, and already it was certain you wouldn't be a mother and it was likely you wouldn't become a manicurist or a kindergarten teacher. Then you started to grow up and everything you did closed the tunnel in some more. You broke your arm climbing a tree and you ruled out being a baseball pitcher. You failed every math test you ever took and you canceled any hope of ever being a scientist. Like that. On and on through the years until you were stuck. You'd become a baker or a librarian or a bartender. Or an accountant. And there you were. I figured that on the day you died, the tunnel would be so narrow, you'd have squeezed yourself in with so many choices, that you just got squashed.”
I can feel the mourning in her words, but in the book, you can also find the hope.
If you haven't already read this book, I'm excited it's in your future!