Saturday, October 19, 2013

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

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

Tell the Wolves I'm Home  is a perfect book for a book club. It's written entirely from the point of view of a fourteen year old girl who has strained and strange relationships with members of her family. It's a coming of age story, but also a book about compassion and about dealing with the worst problems life can send.

Although Tell the Wolves I'm Home was published in 2012, it's set in 1987. It has multiple themes, but the principle story is about the affect of the aids epidemic on the friends and families of the victims. A diagnosis of HIV before the approval of AZT was a death sentence. It also meant dealing with a lack of knowledge in the general public. Most people without the disease were ignorant and scared, which meant the people who were HIV positive had to spend the last few months of their lives dealing with problems as unfair as the disease itself. The reactions of the characters in this novel are unique to their circumstances, but are also typical of what went on in the eighties.

The plot is about June Elbus, a fourteen year old girl who is very close to her dying uncle, a world renowned artist. She, along with her mother and her sister Greta, visit this uncle on Sundays while he works on a portrait of the two girls. The painting is to be his final gift to them, although the concept of “final” is carefully avoided. Later in the book June discovers secrets about her uncle's life that were kept from her due to her mother's wishes. The way June comes to understand her mother's failings is one of my favorite parts of the story.

June and her sister, Greta, were once as close as sisters can be, especially during tax seasons when their parents, both accountants, had always left them on their own. But lately Greta has been mean and June doesn't understand why. Greta has always been the talented one. Her school work has come easily to her and she's currently starring in their high school production of South Pacific. June, however, struggles to keep up in class and isn't as popular as her sister. The story of their relationship is interwoven with the story of June's relationship with her Uncle Finn.

I mentioned in the beginning of this review that Tell the Wolves I'm Home is a great novel for book clubs. I was interested to see how readers can buy a study guide for the book and also a book called 100 Provocative Statements about Tell the Wolves I'm Home which is a collection of “hand picked” reviews. It's fairly clear how much material for discussion this book contains.

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Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Tale of Halcyon Crane by Wendy Webb

The Tale of Halcyon CraneThe Tale of Halcyon Crane by Wendy Webb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm writing this in October when the cooler weather and longer nights have turned my mind to thoughts of good ghost stories. Most readers in the same state would find The Tale of Halcyon Crane by Wendy Webb to be an excellent choice. The book is the story of Hallie James, a recently divorced woman in her early thirties, who receives a letter from a lawyer representing her long lost mother’s estate, along with a note from the mother she hasn’t seen since she was five years old. Hallie learns her name is actually Halcyon Crane. Her father faked her death and took her away from her mother for unknown reasons. Her father has Alzheimer’s and is able to confirm the contents of the letter, but unable to explain further before dying. Hallie has lost both the mother she didn’t know and the father who raised her within a short period of time. She has also inherited a substantial estate and is able to quit her job to go to the island in the Great Lakes where she spent the first five years of her life.

There were a few too many coincidences in the novel and choices by Webb that were too easy. For example there is a character mentioned who provided a means for Hallie’s father to establish a new identity. No one ever knew why, but the man disappeared so he couldn’t be questioned. But the plot is intricate and interesting. I loved the setting. Webb put the story on a fictional island that is similar to Mackinac Island. The phones are all land lines because there is no cell coverage. And since most motor vehicles are banned, people get around in horse drawn carriages. Much of the story is about Hallie’s ancestors, so placing it on an island that hasn’t changed over the years is perfect.

One minor aspect of the story I liked was Webb’s choice to have Hallie’s first marriage break up because her ex is gay. I have a friend who was in a similar situation many years ago. He’s long since gotten over the trauma, but at the time he took it very hard. It was as if he felt he wasn’t good enough sexually or he couldn’t love his wife enough to keep her straight. Our understanding of gay issues has grown over the years, so now a character like Hallie James can have an ex who is her good friend and wants to hear about her relationships. Hallie’s divorce wasn’t anyone’s fault. I like that.

The Tale of Halcyon Crane isn’t as scary as some ghost stories, but it is fun, intricate, and at times quite beautiful.

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