Friday, July 5, 2013

Tell the Wolves I'm Home: Hits you right in the childhood

So this book is The Sad, right? That’s probably the one thing everyone hears about it. And whenever a book gets that reputation, our cynicism pops in for a visit (oh, who are we kidding, it never left). No one appreciates being emotionally manipulated by an author (*cough*John Green*cough*Markus Zusak).

But in this case, it was less like, “Look at this puppy: I KICK IT AND ALSO DIP YOUR LOLLIPOP IN A MUD PUDDLE,” and more like, “Remember the ’80s and how they kind of sucked the most for the gay community, and also how hard it was to be a teenage girl? Remember THAT? Let’s discuss.”

June Elbus is 14, and the year is 1987. She has an older sister whom she used to be close with but is now separated from by a gaping chasm called High School. She’s a little bit eccentric. She doesn’t have many friends her age. Who she DOES have is her Uncle Finn. He understands her better than anyone else in her life and lets her be just who she is. But Finn is wasting away in the grip of a serious disease—an automatic-death-sentence sort of disease. Since the name of this particular affliction isn’t mentioned on the book jacket, I feel obligated to warn you that this could possibly be a spoiler? So if you haven’t already guessed what the mysteeeeeerious illness is, read no farther.

Be sure to visit the snack counter on your way out.

Everyone came back with snacks, right? Because I'm sure you all figured out that Finn is gay and has, at some point before the story picks up, contracted AIDS. Because it’s the ’80s, no one yet knows how to protect themselves from this virus or even exactly how it's transmitted. And the stigma around AIDS is at its height, because with ignorance comes fear and with fear comes people braiding ribbons into the manes of their moral high horses. If you have AIDS, you must have done something to deserve it, or someone must have given it to you maliciously because you fraternize with the sort of people who would do something like that. Because AIDS only happens to Bad People.

Something about adding insult to injury.

The book follows June through this pivotal time in her life, showing how she and her family deal with the enormity of their loss and the conflicting feelings that come with fiercely loving someone who the world tells you is dirty and wrong and unlovable. It’s also about family dynamics at their most basic. About siblings. About mothers and daughters. About husbands and wives. It’s good, you guys. It’s really good.
And the writing? Not too shabby for a YA book (she says with her hands shielding her face, and also having recently read no fewer than five YA books in a row).
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. (p. 233)
One thing I love about June is that she's kind of into the Renaissance period and visiting the woods by herself so she can pretend she is a lone maiden venturing out in search of medicinal herbs to save the people of her village. She might be a little old for make-believe, but time travel is an effective escape at any age.
I used to think maybe I wanted to become a falconer, and now I’m sure of it, because I need to figure out the secret. I need to work out how to keep things flying back to me instead of always flying away. (p. 350)
I identify with this character. I have an older sibling whom I was close to and then grew impossibly far away from without ever really understanding how. I also used to pretend that I lived in another time. I didn’t have woods to retreat to, but I frequently ventured into the backyard bushes to reenact scenes from Sleeping Beauty.

I played the part of the horse.

Even more than those somewhat superficial connections with June, I also have an uncle who died of AIDS. Because my family is fairly conservative and also lived far away from my Uncle David (he in San Francisco; we in Texas), there has always been a lot of mystery surrounding the whole ordeal—made worse by the fact that I was too young to be invited into ALL the details of his illness. I knew that he preferred men. I knew that he wore a lot of leather (and he looked gooooood, ya’ll). I knew that he was a little thinner each time I saw him. I knew that there was a fair amount of tension around that subject. I knew that he somehow understood me better than any of my other aunts and uncles, even though I saw him the least. (He MADE me a leather journal for Christmas one year because he knew I loved to write.)

And then one day he was just gone. And that was that.

So after I read this book, I decided to ask my dad more about that time. I asked him why none of us went to Uncle Dave’s funeral. (We just couldn’t make the journey to California on such short notice.) I asked him if they kept their distance because they disapproved of his lifestyle. (Partly.) I asked him if he had a partner to take care of him when he got really sick. (No, because his long-term partner, whom he met in England [if you’ve read the book, you will realize that this is a CRAZY parallel], also had AIDS and passed away first. But he was surrounded by close friends.)

It was a good talk. And I’m glad this book inspired it.

So go forth, my friends. Read and cry cleansing tears of crippling sadness.


  1. It's apparently my secret mission in life (and by secret, I mean, FROM MYSELF) to read/watch all the things about AIDS in the world and cry buckets at them. And I do it WITHOUT EVEN KNOWING WHAT THESE THINGS ARE ABOUT (See: Philadelphia, Angels in America) and then they also kind of become the best things ever in the worst way?

    Basically what I'm saying is, I want to read this, obviously. And also I'm sorry about your uncle. AND I'm trying really hard not to go 'he lived in San Francisco? How interesting, tell me more!' but oh shit, I just did it :s. Oh oh oh ALSO you are from Texas? Because in my brain you're from Florida! Possibly I make things up.

  2. Your uncle sounds amazing. Agh, this book must have been so rough for you to read. But I'm so glad you learned more about your family as a result! That's pretty freaking cool. I wonder how many conversations like that this book has inspired.

    And that bit on the kicking the puppy and wrecking the lollipop? THAT IS PERFECT AND THAT IS EXACTLY HOW SOME BOOKS ARE NICE ONE MEG.

  3. I STILL need to watch Angels in America...because Patrick Wilson. But isn't Philadelphia SO GOOD? How has Tom Hanks never won an Oscar?

    I AM from Florida! I lived in Texas for a bit when I was young though. For...9 years. So maybe a little longer than a bit.

  4. It was so weird...I think I was halfway through the book before it dawned on me that I sort of had that happen to me. It's funny the way our memories are completely awful sometimes. But when I DID remember, I was like AAAGHHHHHH my heart.

  5. "with ignorance comes fear and with fear comes people braiding ribbons into the manes of their moral high horses" I love this description, even if it's about sad things

    I'm sorry about your uncle. That is super sad. And I'm all sorts of afraid of the crippling sadness that will come with reading this. If/when I do read it, please don't be surprised if you get random emails where I blame you for making me read this and thus crying all the tears.

  6. So this sounds like everything I want in a book.

    I'm sorry about your uncle. It's nice that this book connected with your feelings about him, though, and led you to learn more about your family.

  7. Well now you HAVE to send me crying emails. I'll be so disappointed if you don't.

  8. It's just the right amount of sad . . . and cultural commentary is always nice, too.

  9. This review gave me intense feels... mainly because you shared those parallels about the book and your uncle. Thanks for reviewing the book and reminding me that I should reach out to my favorite uncle (a huge deal, since I have 10 uncles), and remind him that he is the best!

  10. It's always better if you can make a personal connection. GO HUG YOUR UNCLES. All 10 of them. But you can hug the favorite one a little harder.

  11. I love all of the gifs you use with your review. Found your review through another site and I am not 100% convined I need to move this up my tbr list. Great review!

  12. Thanks for visiting! It's a sad one, but totally worth the tears. : )

  13. I somehow did not see your review of this book until now. Your review has made me sadder than any other review I've read.

  14. It's because of that cat on a Roomba. It's OK...that GIF gets to me, too.