Literature / Tell the Wolves I'm Home

"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."

"Her tears tell the story of what she knows. That the past, present, and future are just one thing. That there's nowhere to go from here. Home is home is home."

Tell the Wolves I'm Home is Carol Rifka Brunt's debut novel, published in 2013.

It is 1987. June Elbus is fourteen; shy, introverted and fascinated by history, especially the Middle Ages. She takes solace from the problems and pain of the present in solitary walks in the woods wearing medieval boots and Gunne Sax dresses. The only person who really understands her is her beloved uncle, the famous painter Finn Weiss.

But Finn is dying of AIDS, a new and mysterious disease that nobody seems to know much, if anything about. Knowing that he has very little time left, Finn paints his final portrait of his nieces June and her estranged older sister, Greta. When AIDS finally takes his life, Finn's remaining family members have to pick up the pieces. June remains the most broken up about it of all, being far, far fonder of her uncle than even she would like to admit to herself.

Yet even in death, Finn has left her with a gift she did not even know she needed: the acquaintance of a foreign stranger, a man named Toby, who asks to meet up with her as he alone knows how June felt and still feels about Finn.

As June grows closer to Toby, Tell the Wolves I'm Home not only captures a beautiful portrait of life both lost and found, but paints a moving picture of how compassion, understanding and forgiveness can touch and heal a person - and how love remains the only thing that even death cannot destroy.

  • '80s Hair: Toby, with his "fluffy" look.
  • The Ace: Greta is beautiful, so smart she skipped a grade, apparently really good in theater, and is popular in school. This weighs heavily on her sister June.
    • Broken Ace: Really, though, she only became like that because she missed her sister.
  • Adorkable: Toby, Toby, Toby. June as well, with her love of dressing up and playacting. Ben Dellahunt counts too.
  • All the Good Men Are Gay: June found this out the hard way. Twice.
  • Aloof Dark-Haired Girl: Greta to June - though it is all a sham.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Perhaps even a Downer Ending depending on the reader. Toby deteriorates shockingly into the final stages of AIDS and June feels like she's only hastened his death when, after being grounded, she asks him to go looking for Greta one cold, storming night. Toby dies several days later and June never forgives herself for shortening his life, regardless of Toby forgiving her and telling her this would be the outcome no matter what. The painting, "Tell The Wolves I'm Home", is restored with none of Toby, Greta or June's additions to it visible anymore. Meanwhile Danielle never resumes her professional painting and Greta will still be leaving for university despite her fears. And in the end, June has her heart painfully broken again when she reveals that she loved Toby as well as Finn despite knowing she will never see them again, while the events of the past several months leave a permanent, painful shadow over her heart.
  • Blue Eyes: Finn's "bird-blue" ones.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Both Greta and June several times.
  • Broken Bird: Greta and June very much. Also, Toby who just hides it better. Danielle is the repressed and hardened version of this.
  • Brown Eyes: A soulful, beautiful pair belonging to Toby. Can also count as Puppy Eyes.
  • But Not Too Foreign: Toby's father was British and his mother Spanish - making Toby this.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: June to Finn, especially after discovering that Toby and Finn were in a relationship, because this meant that there was an aspect of Finn's life she wasn't privy to.
    • As it turns out, Greta was one to June as well; she was jealous that June and Finn had grown so close over the years.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: For both June and Greta, but especially June who ages rapidly (and painfully) over the course of the story.
  • Cool Uncle: Finn. Especially for June.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Greta.
  • The Disease That Shall Not Be Named: AIDS, justified due to the time period. Nobody wants to talk about Finn dying of it.
    • Later on, Kaposi's sarcoma, a classic "AIDS defining disease", subtly shows up when Toby removes his outer jacket while at the zoo with June and reveals scabby marks on his emaciated arms. When this disease occurs in someone infected with HIV, it means that the person's HIV has progressed into AIDS.
    • Early on in the book it is noted that Finn becomes thinner and thinner - he is suffering from wasting (wasting syndrome) due to HIV - and in his case, the final stages of AIDS. And when June visits a dying Toby in the hospital, she notes how there is "nothing left of him". It is clear that since Toby has become nothing more than skin and bones, he too is victim of this.
    • Considering that Toby spent the night looking for Greta in the cold, rainy weather, he probably also had pneumonia (perhaps bronchopneumonia, considering his symptoms.) Pneumonia is one of the diseases recognized as an "Aids defining disease" though of course, people who do not have AIDS or HIV get pneumonia as well as it affects anyone.
  • Everybody Knew Already: June was the last one to find out that Finn not only had AIDS, but was dying of it.
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: The blond haired Finn who was liked by everyone and stole the heart of Toby and June.
  • Fan of the Past: June is obsessed with the Middle Ages.
  • First Love: Finn was this to Toby as they met while Finn was giving an art class in a jail as part of the community work section of his master's degree abroad in England. Toby fell head over heels and worked to win Finn's heart; he succeed, despite (Toby) being in jail at that time. Later on, June finally admits that Finn was her first love as well.
  • First Kiss: Ben Dellahunt gives June a surprise one at a party.
  • Generation Xerox: Two siblings who used to be incredibly close, but eventually grew apart as one found someone else to share solace with while the other was unhappy with their lot in life? Not just Greta and June.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: We are introduced to Greta as the "pretty" one and June as the "smart" one, although Greta (who skipped a grade) is more intelligent than June. It turns out that neither sister actually wanted their relationship to end up that bad.
  • Hairof Gold Heartof Gold: Oh Finn.
  • Incest Is Relative: Greta tells June that Ben Dellahunt is just using her and that he's actually seeing Tina Yarwood. The girl in question turns out to be Ben's cousin and the whole thing is a misunderstanding.
  • Incest Subtext: From the start of the book, it is strongly implied that June had more than relative feeling for Finn, her uncle. As the book progresses, it becomes more and more apparent that for June, Finn was far more than just her uncle. Finally, when Toby is in the hospital, he gently pushes June to admit that she was in love with Finn. She does.
  • Incompatible Orientation: June loved Finn who not only was her uncle, but gay as well. Later on, most painfully, June gets this again - with Toby.
  • I Thought You Meant: Right after Toby tells June that he's dying of AIDS and because he won't be here much longer he can do whatever he wants, for a second June thinks he means it in a sexual way. As they're both sitting on a bed with Toby comforting her, no wonder she misinterpreted what he says. Toby of course, is mortified.
  • Jerkass Façade: Greta
  • Known Only by Their Nickname: Toby's full name is Tobias Aldshaw.
  • Love Hurts: Toby and Finn have their life together shortened by the devastating effects of AIDS. June gets her heart brutally broken twice; first by Finn's death, then Toby's - both of whom she was in love with. Danielle and Finn's relationship remains strained, though Danielle is implied to miss Finn before and after his death very much.
  • May–December Romance: What June suspects people see her and Toby as when they're together. Fitting, as she's only 14 and Toby is somewhere in his early to mid 30's. Not exactly May-December, but Finn is 7 years older than Toby.
  • Messy Hair: Toby's forever scruffy, unkempt look.
  • Nerds Are Sexy: In his own dorky way, Toby especially to June. Ben Dellahunt, with his love of Dungeons and Dragons can be seen as this as well.
  • Nice Guy: Both Finn and Toby who are total sweethearts. Which makes everything that happens even more heartbreaking. Ben Dellahunt is this as well, as well as June and Greta's father.
  • Nightmare Fuel: AIDS. Being diagnosed with AIDS, losing loved ones to AIDS, living with AIDS, your body deteriorating from AIDS, getting other diseases as a result of AIDS. There being no cure to AIDS. Everything about AIDS. Everything.
  • One True Love: Beautifully and touchingly with Finn and Toby, from the moment they first met and even after Finn dies from AIDS.
  • Oop North: Toby tells June that he is from a town on the outskirts of Leeds, right on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors.
  • Open Secret: Both Finn and Toby know that June is in love with Finn. When Toby tells her they knew, June is highly embarrassed and hurt.
  • Parents as People: Danielle especially.
  • Platonic Life Partners: June once dreamed of having this relationship with Finn - before he got sick with AIDS though.
  • Pretty Boy: June thinks Toby is beautiful in an odd way. Toby in his turn, found Finn beautiful from the moment he set eyes on him.
  • The Resenter: All over the place.
    • June resents Toby for representing an aspect of Finn's life she never knew about.
    • June's mother, Danielle, resented Finn for being able to go and live the life of an artist that she never got to, instead ending up an accountant in the suburbs.
    • Greta resented Finn for being so close to June, and almost sees his death as an opportunity to get close to her sister again.
  • Reclusive Artist: Finn becomes on, much to the annoyance and confusion of his fans. Danielle could be seen as this as well.
  • Secret Relationship: The fact that Toby was Finn's boyfriend for years, was kept hidden by Danielle from Greta and June. Not because Finn was gay, but rather because Danielle felt that Toby was a bad influence for Finn and a poor choice considering his past. Not to mention, Danielle and the family were under the impression that Toby was the one who gave Finn AIDS and considered him a lowlife murderer. Finn and Toby only agreed to keeping their relationship under wraps so that Finn could keep seeing his nieces Greta and June.
  • Second Love: "Toby was right. Finn was my first love. But Toby, he was my second.
  • Secretly Dying: Toby has AIDS.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Greta is gregarious while June is quiet.
  • Silent Scapegoat: Along with Taking the Heat from the rest of the family, Toby didn't give Finn AIDS as Danielle and Greta said. Toby subtly reveals that he was a virgin and that Finn really was his "first" in all ways. He loved Finn so much, that he never told Finn; therefore, Finn never knew that he was the one who had given Toby AIDS. June promises not to tell and the rest of the family never discovers the truth - which is what Toby wanted.
  • Squick: June is disgusted and embarrassed with herself for falling in love with Finn - her own uncle. Due to the compassionate writing, understanding and the sensitivity of the situation, it masterfully does not come across as being disgusting to the reader. Or Toby.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Finn and Toby, thanks to AIDS. A onesided version of this happens to June first with Finn and later on with Toby.
  • Straight Gay: Finn and Toby.
  • Tall Darkand Snarky: Toby, with his quick quips and fun responses.
  • Tall Darkand Handsome: June finds Toby to be rather attractive, in his own way.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Toby and Finn met while Finn was doing community work in London as part of earning his master's degree in art. Finn was the teacher (Hot Teacher for Toby), to a group of inmates who signed up for the program.
  • Tear Jerker: Taken Up to Eleven. A truly heartbreaking book.
  • Terrible Artist: Toby added the poorly painted buttons to Finn's painting of Greta and June. Later on, both Greta and June silently communicate with each other by making subtle changes to the painting. Their mother, Danielle does so as well, but unlike Toby or her daughters, she's just as good a painter as Finn and is able to let her additions slip past the eyes of the restorer - Toby, Greta and June's additions aren't so lucky.
  • Tragic Dream: Danielle dreamed of being an artist when she and Finn were young - Finn got his dream, Danielle settled for being an accountant and their relationship was permanently broken. In a way, June's desire to grow up and live with Finn was this as well.
  • Troubled, but Cute: Other than the fact that he's dying of AIDS, Toby not only was sent to jail for accidentally permanently paralyzing someone, but his visa has long expired and he shouldn't be in America at all.
  • Unnamed Parent: June and Greta's father is never named.
  • Uptown Girl: Finn was the male version of this to Toby, considering that the latter was unfairly in jail and the former was the wealthy, foreign artist doing community work for inmates.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Greta and June used to be extremely close; as they grew older it turned into The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry.
  • Workaholic: June and Greta's parents who are both accountants; justified as the story is set in the early months of the year (also known as "tax season").