Tell the Wolves I’m Home – Teen Book Talks Pick (April 2013)

by Carol Rifka Brunt

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In Tell the Wolves I’m Home, June Elbus, our fourteen-year-old narrator, loses her beloved uncle, Finn (a respected artist) to AIDS in the opening chapters. A lover of medieval paraphernalia and a loner, June feels more isolated than ever before meeting someone who takes her on a different journey. Set during a time when ignorance and paranoia defined the general public and stigmatized those living with it, this novel offers a tender look at coming-of-age. 

Great for: 

  • 14 and up
  • teens and adults alike who want a beautiful story about the loss of a loved one 
  • Anyone who enjoys books with an authentic narrator
  • “My father never came, and he was right not to. He wasn’t part of it (3).”

    • After reading the book, why do you think June’s father was ‘never part of it’?

    That’s because everything about Greta is more beautiful, even the way she says things (4).”

    • Do you agree? Have you ever had this type of relationship with a sibling?

    “Now that Finn’s gone, nobody knows that I go to the woods after school. Sometimes I think nobody even remembers these woods exist at all (13).”

    • Is there a relationship between June and the woods?

    “I stared out the car window and understood that I was in a place where nobody knew my heart even a little bit (25).”

    • Does someone, in this world, know your heart well?

    “He didn’t seem sad about Finn dying. If anything, I thought, he acted like it was a relief (28).”

    • Do people sometimes view things inaccurately? Do you agree with June’s assessment here?

    “I don’t like to overhear things, because, in my experience, things your parents are keeping quiet about are things you don’t want to know (29).”

    • This is a great line: do you agree with what June states above?

    “Greta knows that for me there are no good parties. I’m okay with one or two people, but more than that and I turn into a naked mole rat. That’s being shy feels like (33).”

    • Can you relate? Is this a good description of what being shy is like? How would you describe feeling insecure? Angry? Joyful?

    Finn took the job of being my godfather seriously. I asked my mother once why Finn wasn’t Greta’s godfather too, and she said that when Greta was born, Finn hadn’t settled down yet (38).

    • How much of Greta and June’s relationship problems stem back to Finn in the role as June’s godfather?

    “When I was nine I had an idea about time travel. I thought that maybe if I jumped rope backward fast enough, I would go back in time (43).”

    • What types of interesting ideas did you used to have?

    “No matter what happened, the two of us would always be trapped inside those four pieces of wood (44).”

    • What kind of statement is this about artwork? Does it make you look at paintings a little differently?

    “That’s what I want for you,” he said. “I want you to know only the very best people (47).”

    • What do you want for the people you love? What makes Finn such a wonderful uncle?

    “That’s one of those snapshot moments. I don’t know why some memories are like that, where everything is perfectly preserved. Frozen. But that memory – Finn’s eyes locked on my mother’s, my mother slowly shaking her head – is exactly like that (77).”

    • Do you have any memories like this? Think of the details.

    “A portrait is a picture where somebody gets to choose what you look like. How they want to see you. A camera catches whichever you happens to be there when it click (116).”

    • Do you agree?

    “Being a romantic means you always see what’s beautiful. What’s good. You don’t want to see the gritty truth of things. You believe everything will turn out right (124).”

    • Is that what being a romantic means to you? Are you or someone you know similar to this way of living?

    “The only different thing about the apartment was that it didn’t smell like lavender and orange anymore. Now the place smelled mostly of stale cigarette smoke (140).”

    • What do the places you love smell like? The people you love?

    “But the sadness stayed with me. Not only sadness because I wasn’t part of Toby and Finn’s world but also because there were things about Finn that weren’t Finn at all (148).”

    • Discuss how June starts to discover that parts of Finn come from Toby: why is this so disconcerting to her?

    “What if nobody ever knew me like that again? What if I went through my whole life getting mediocre gifts – bath sets and boxes of chocolate and bed socks – and never ever found someone who knew me in the way Finn did? (152).”

    • This is a common fear people have: can you relate?

    “I need to tell you. Everything is so wrong. Toby has nobody. Please Crocodile believe me. He is good and kind. Look after him. For me (153).”

    • What does this say about Finn?

    “Then I realized that this was my mother’s fault. There wouldn’t be any underground annex if it wasn’t for her (177).”

    • Do you agree that June’s mother is to blame for Toby having to hide? Do you view it as cruel?

    “Don’t you know? 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 (203).”

    • This is a powerful idea: do you agree?

    “I knew the way lost hopes could be dangerous, how they could turn a person into someone they never thought they’d be (322).”

    • Who is June referring to here?

    “[….] we were really saying goodbye to the girls we used to be. Girls who knew how to play invisible mermaids, who could run through dark aisles, pretending to save the world (337).”

    • Is there a moment that you can remember a clear division created between your younger and present self?

    [….] That all the jealousy and envy and shame we carried was our own kind of sickness. As much a disease as Toby and Finn’s AIDS (349).”

    • What other elements do we carry in us that are toxic to our wellbeing?

    “Everyone needs to think they have secrets (354).”

    • What does June mean by this? Do you agree? 

Have we come far in understanding AIDS and people carrying AIDS?

Did you think that something strange was going on between Greta and her teacher?

Which parts of the book were the most interesting to you?

Did you find the book boring at all?

Did this book make you look at someone important in your life a little differently?

What do you make of the title?

How would you describe June? Do you relate to her, despite your gender?

What were your thoughts on Toby? What did you think of the ending ? 

All books recommended on the website have been read by The Book Dumpling. New titles are added on a continuous basis. To recommend or suggest a book, please email me

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