Monday, February 25, 2013

Tell the Wolves I'm Home (review)

Tell the Wolves I'm HomeTell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Love and grief in the time of AIDS

“Tell the Wolves I’m Home: A Novel” (Dial Press, 2012), by Carol Rifka Brunt is a coming of age story of love, grief, and renewal as two lonely people become unlikely friends. The only person who really understands fifteen year-old June Elbus is her uncle and the renowned painter Finn Weiss. June is shy at school; her older sister Greta, with whom she was once close, has turned mean and nasty. Finn, her godfather, confidante, and, to her shame, secret crush, shares her love of the medieval era and introduces her to the glories of Mozart’s Requiem.
June’s world is turned upside down when Finn dies of a terrible disease that her mother initially talks about only by tracing the letters A-I-D-S onto a table. At the funeral, June glimpses a strange man lingering at the edge of the crowd. June soon learns that the man, Toby, was Finn’s “special friend,” as her mother puts it.
Despite her initial mistrust, June forms a clandestine friendship with her uncle’s partner, since her family hates Toby and blames him for Finn’s illness. They work through their grief, talking about Finn’s art and passion for life. June comes to learn more about Finn, herself, and the nature of love.
Rifka Brunt absolutely captures the attitudes toward AIDS and the gay community in the mid-to-late 1980s: the homophobia, the stigma surrounding AIDS, the ignorance, and of course the pain of losing so many loved ones. Readers today who are not old enough to remember the AIDS crisis may shake their heads at June’s worry that Finn might have infected her by kissing her on the top of the head, but it’s important to remember that misinformation about the transmission of the virus was rampant at that time.
It was international news in 1987 when Princess Diana visited an AIDS hospital and shook hands with one of the patients without wearing gloves, to make the point that the virus could not be transmitted though normal contact; that same year, however, police wearing long yellow rubber gloves arrested protesters at an AIDS conference.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home is a 2013 winner of the Young Adult Library Services Association’s Alex Award, given to books written for adults that have special appeal to teens. Be forewarned: this beautiful book may very well have you doing the ugly cry.

Sara Latta is a children's science writer and author of 17 books. You can learn more about her work and link to past reviews at

This review originally published in Sunday, February 24, 2013 edition of The News-Gazette.

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Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Fault in Our Stars (review)

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Stellar Read—or Listen

I hadn’t originally intended to write a review of John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars” (Dutton Juvenile, 2012).  Not because I don’t adore John Green (I do) or his books (ditto), several of which I’ve reviewed for this paper. But I like to spread the love to authors who may not have received the attention they deserve. John Green’s fans, a.k.a. nerdfighters, are legion. I thought I’d give some other deserving authors a few column inches.
Sorry, other deserving authors. I’ll get to you later. You might say it was in the stars that this week’s review is for the audio version of “The Fault in Our Stars” (produced by Brilliance Audio, 2012; narrated by Kate Rudd). I generally write about print books in this column, but I had hardly removed the earbuds after listening to Green’s most recent gem when I learned that it had just won the American Library Association’s Odyssey Award for best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults. Well done, judges, well done.
Hazel Grace Lancaster, the narrator, is sixteen. She has cancer, and must carry an oxygen tank with her wherever she goes. Despite an experimental drug that has bought her a few years, she is terminal. She meets Augustus Waters, who has lost a leg to cancer (“I had a little touch of osteosarcoma a year and a half ago…”) at a support group. The two kindred spirits, sharing an irreverent sense of humor and a searching intelligence, eventually fall in love.
Augustus manages to arrange a trip to Amsterdam so that Hazel Grace can meet the author of her favorite book, “An Imperial Affliction,” to find out what happens to the characters after the book’s abrupt ending. What happens during the trip should remain a surprise, but it’s significant.
In the hands of a lesser author, a story about two teens with cancer would be sentimental and maudlin. While “The Fault in Our Stars” deals quite honestly and often heart-wrenchingly with the problems of kids with cancer, it is also filled with Green’s trademark humor and intelligence.
As any listener of audiobooks knows, the narrator can make or break the listening experience. Kate Rudd does a wonderful job of bringing the characters, especially Hazel Grace, to life. At 31, she is young enough to sound quite convincing as a teenager. In an interview, she admits that there were at least 100 pages where she is actually crying as she’s reading. So that explains Hazel’s very convincing breathlessness and the frequent catches in the voices of the parents.
Listen to this book in a place where you won’t mind if anyone catches you weeping or laughing out loud. If they do, just share one of your earbuds.

Sara Latta is a children's science writer and author of 17 books. You can learn more about her work and link to past reviews at

This review originally appeared in the Sunday, February 3, 2013 edition of The News-Gazette (Champaign-Urbana, Illinois).

View all my reviews