Thursday, February 14, 2013

Review: Tell the Wolves I’m Home

Title: Tell the Wolves I’m Home
Author: Carol Rifka Brunt
Genre: Contemporary,Young Adult, Drama, Historical
My Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5 stars)


When cupids of literature decide to shoot, there are moments when they don’t stop at the ‘piercing’ stage. Sometimes they linger inside us and use their love arrows to carve a shelf-space in our hearts, whereafter they will gently lodge a special book. They synchronize our heartbeats with the flutters of that novel’s pages. And then they will tether it to all our memory muscles until we realize we will never forget its story no matter how hard we try.

My heart already contains a sizable literary  treasure trove. A couple of weeks ago, I added to it a novel that rendered me weak-kneed with awe:  Carol Rifka Brunt’s Tell the Wolves I’m Home.

The title itself is a siren’s call to my ears. It had me thinking, “What exactly are those wolves? Are those your fears? Are those the bad things you’ve run away from but are finally facing because you’re tired of hiding from them? Is this a poetic way of saying you’re giving up?” With these big question marks, I know I just have to read this and find out.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home is set in 1980s America and follows the story of fourteen-year-old June Elbus. Her quirkiness and love of anything medieval made her feel adrift even in her own home, and it is only Finn Weiss—a renowned New York painter and her favorite uncle—who becomes her friendly anchor. But the mooring is severed when Finn dies of an illness largely misunderstood at that time: AIDS. June feels abandoned with her own heartache, not only for having lost her best friend but also because her family’s grief seems to be eclipsed by embarrassment and resentment. After a furtive (and initially hesitant) correspondence with Toby, Finn’s lover, it dawns on her that she has found a kindred, damaged spirit. And maybe if she opens up some more, she’ll realize he’s the very person she needs the most…

This is the kind of book the narrator of 500 Days of Summer truthfully describes: not a love story but a story about love. Some people may raise their eyebrows and ask, “What does a wet-behind-the-ears teenage nerd know about the four-letter-word?” Pick up this book and surprise yourself.

What I like the most about this novel is that the author knew the difference between creating a character because she wants to have a “readable” megaphone and creating a character because she wants to mold a human that can spring from the pages. Brunt’s craft is the latter. She didn’t try to make June her precocious puppet; she made June the way June should be, which is a true child. The prose may be simplistic, but it carries a weight reminiscent of good poetry.  I think that vibe is given off by how June’s words can tug at the heartstrings. She oozes with innocence, but she also has the kind of wisdom only the heartbroken ones could project. I salute Brunt for this wonderful blend! It’s one of those few books that separated themselves from most coming-of-age creations today, which have characters that are obviously adults trapped in kids’ bodies.

(I guess everyone can recognize bits of themselves in June. The awkward bits. The clumsy bits. The I-think-I’m-too-weird bits.  The no-one-will-like-me-if-they-won’t-get-anything-from-me bits. The I’m-alone-but-not-really-lonely bits. Practically all those bits that make you want to wish that someone with genuine intention will love you as you are, and let you know.)

The unfurling of Toby and June’s complicated relationship is Wolves’ hub. Both characters have Finn-shaped holes in their universes, and in some peculiar way they manage to fill those holes with pieces of each other… pieces that also materialize Finn in the eyes of the reader. Brunt takes her time in kneading the whole thing in its most realistic form. The sibling rivalry also adds a poignant layer to the tale, although for the first half I thought Greta seems like a “mean girl” caricature that became developed too late in the novel. The parents are not given much character flesh (perhaps due to their portrayal as busy and a tad too inattentive figures), but their presence is palpable when it needs be.

World-building is ace as well. While nostalgia didn’t kick in (I was born in 1991), Brunt makes it so that you can feel the 1980s through her book. From fashion to music, from food to even the fears and boxed mentality of people then…they’re all alive. It’s like bolting through the chromes of the ‘80s.

In all honesty, there’s nothing much to say about the plot. Wolves puts emphasis on the beauty of anticipation instead of the element of surprise. Even its opening sentence tells you that: “My sister Greta and I were having our portrait painted by our Uncle Finn because he knew he was dying.” It’s the first piece of domino the author pushed for you. All you have to do is marvel at how each piece knocks the next one beautifully.

All in all, Tell the Wolves I’m Home successfully managed to pull a perfectWizard of Oz. It has brains, bursting with meaty morsels of wisdom at the four corners of every page; it has courage, not pulling any punches while it slowly reveals jagged truths about the dichotomy of human nature; and it has a heart—a big, big one—that sings a quiet cradlesong which can make you cry and still fill your chest with so much hope. That and its many flaws made it complete. This is how human a book should be.

Five stars for a stunning read.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Book Trade?

Hola, bookworms! I have extra pre-loved copies of Holly Black’s White Cat and Red Glove and Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Anyone up for a book trade?

Trade Books

All are in good condition, though Wind-Up’s pages have yellowed a little (I bought it ten years ago and it’s my second oldest Murakami book). Drop me a message or a comment if you’re interested (also if you are willing to meet up with me at SM Manila). Thanks and happy bookwormism!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Carpark Artgasm: Art Fair PH 2013

For the artsy fartsy herd, the most important thing about February is not that it contains the internationally recognized 24 hours of PDA on the fourteenth (let’s be honest about that).While others are cooking up Valentine's Day surprises, some people headed over to The Link, Ayala Center from February 7 to 10 for Art Fair Philippines 2013. Why, the Love Month is also National Arts Month! :)

Art Fair Philippines is a sudden explosion of color and creativity in the usual bleakness of The Link. There’s an entrance fee of a hundred bucks (fifty if you’re a student), and that’s already more than worth the trip you’d get inside. It’s practically stepping into a multihued paradise of every art form imaginable.

Eclectic Concept Bursts

At the exhibit’s VIP lounge area is where Kenneth Cobonpue’s masterpiece furniture collections are located. I don’t have an eye of a good interior designer, but I don’t think you’ll need one to appreciate Cobonpue’s creations. I heard his works are largely admired by Hollywood superstars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (and that he’s commissioned to transform the parkway drive into the Fair’s urban art gallery). No wonder about that—the furniture are topnotch, both form- and function-wise.


The piece I loved the most in his BLOOM collection, which includes the leaf chairs. It’s the kind of chair I’d love to have in our house’s lush gazebo…if we actually had one. Haha. For some reason, I went totally giddy when I saw it. Self-deprecatory humor unleashed: going Thumbelina!


The 1335 Mabini B.A.R. (Bureau of Artistic Rehab) just next to Cobonpue’s works is a different kind of world, the amazing kind mixed with heavy doses of crass. At one glance, you’ll know it’s a crazy mishmash of pop culture, porn, unfettered creativity induced by madness, and vastly incoherent thoughts:




Beauty and the Grit

One of my instant favorites is the “Asphalt” mixed media assemblage of renowned Filipino sculptor Gabriel Barredo. This is no surprise, as I have a penchant for anything steampunk and twisted. There are many pieces in his 30-foot-long kinetic installation that effortlessly intrigued me. My friend commented that the whole thing looked like something “from hell,” which I can’t exactly disagree with. Everything in there depicts “a grim specter of a world given to ruin,” grit, darkness, detachment, and the folly of humans and their twisted physiology. check them out:

Baby Steampunk


Paintings with crude, twisted, or just plain weird themes are copious too. In fact, I think they exceeded the number of the twee, inspirational, and lighter-themed ones. Below are some of the definite scene-stealers (I’d appreciate it if  anyone could give me the artists’ and the paintings’ names):

Mona Lisa Overdose



Some other works that are worth seeing there were: Subterranean Blues by Jason Paul Tecson (the sculpture’s dripping with awesomesauce—a skeleton in a boat waiting for you to get onboard!), Tapahoho by Joven Mansit, Art Toys by Charlie Co at the Secret Fresh booth, Touch Me Here by Alab Pagarigan, Bulol by Ronald Ventura, and Mimefield (this is a favorite!) by Mark Justiniani. :)

I wish I'd taken more photos for your viewing pleasure, but alas, Blackberry batteries have the shortest life span in all the history of Smartphone batts. Anyway, I can't wait for the next Art Fair Philippines! Starting from now, I'll make it a tradition to always go.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Lost hopes.

Desperation and misguided POVs are angry ghosts that commence destruction from the inside out once they possess a person…most of the time. Because there are rarer times when lost hopes can make people swallow their pride (non-fattening!) and strip some films of selfishness from their heart.

Either way, they’re still dangerous. Not only because they make people break promises they make for themselves, but also because they make hearts extra-vulnerable.

“I knew the way lost hopes could be dangerous, how they could turn a person into someone they never thought they’d be.”
-Tell the Wolves I’m Home (Carolf Rifka Brunt)