Back in the halcyon days of the 1950's American kids basically raised themselves. Once you demonstrated that you could cross the street without getting run over you were basically on your own until night fall. Yesterday's benign neglect has morphed into more modern trends like tiger moms and helicopter parents but savvy kids still manage to put things over on their folks. The two teenage sisters at the center of Tell the Wolves I'm Home don't have to try very hard because they're being raised by wolves, or more precisely, partners in an accounting firm who relinquish all parental responsibility once tax season begins. They are left to fend for themselves even though they are also coping with their mother's brother's recent death from AIDS. Without any parental guidance, both sisters engage in risky behavior as the family struggles with long dormant feelings of jealousy, guilt, blame and forgiveness.
June, the younger sister, was her uncles's favorite and the story is told from her perspective. She is one of a long line of adolescents in literature, from Jo March to Holden Caulfield, who actively resist the pressures of maturity. Her uncle's death, and the elaborate scheme he concocted to help her grieve, force her to cope with issues far greater than typical teenage angst. Her family dysfunction is an evocative stand-in for the misinformation and social hysteria that AIDS engendered back in the 1980's. Carol Rifka Brunt has recreated the brooding atmosphere of NYC and its northern suburbs in the waning days of the Reagan presidency, making it seem both hauntingly familiar and, thankfully, far removed.