Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Book review: Tell the Wolves I'm Home

It took about 100 pages for me to figure out the title for Carol Rifka Brunt’s debut novel, “Tell the Wolves I’m Home.” I’m not sure I am entirely right. Like a good painting, this story of grief has layers.

It is 1987, and 14 year old June Elbus is dealing with the death of her favorite uncle and godfather, the renowned painter Finn Weiss, from complications caused by AIDS. He paints one last painting of June and her older sister Greta that is instrumental in uncovering hidden truths of Finn and the people he left behind. June grapples with feelings of grief, love, stolen moments, and guilt. She learns more about relationships and the space between them.

The book captures the suspicion and fear that was indicative of the times when little was known about AIDS. Anyone who remembers Ryan White will recognize the hysteria. Younger readers will pick up the vibe of the ancient history of the 80s. Young or older, the cadence of the language and the likable character of June carry the reader on a satisfying journey that touches the heart. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

St. Nick's Day

Tonight is the eve before St. Nick’s Day. If you don’t know what that is, you probably aren’t alone. Growing up, it was part of our lives, albeit a confusing part. St. Nick, which is an alias for Santa Claus, comes weeks before Christmas to fill stockings with candy, small toys and other goodies for children to find on the morning of December 6. It wasn’t until I had children and moved away that I realized not every household does this. It also got more confusing as my children grew up, celebrating this oddball holiday tradition in a place where it was not that common. Try explaining why St. Nick gave your kid candy and not his buddy Meghan.

There were some who did celebrate St. Nick’s Day, and the local Catholic church taught it, but it was an alternate version, where children put out their shoes to be filled with candy. Yuck! The St. Nick I know does not want to put food in my children’s stinky shoes. Although upon further research, I learned that putting out shoes has historical significance with this tradition, just not in my tradition.

Like most old tales, there are several versions of the story of St. Nick. It has been retold in that weird claymation action in “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” More recently, it was told by VeggieTales (and pretty well, actually). I prefer the version of the poor man with three daughters who cannot marry because he has no dowry to give prospective husbands. The girls hang their stockings by the fire to dry and wake to find them filled with gold. Notice they were stockings, not shoes.

Last summer, we moved back to our hometown. St. Nick is in full swing here, with advertisements posted on scrolling signs outside local retailers announcing that the jolly old elf comes tonight. My children will not face the confusion of getting some goods while their classmates don’t, and haven’t once asked to set out their shoes.