By: Carol Rifka Brunt
Rating: 4 stars
Who Should Read This: This book is for those who are looking for a story to read a powerful story about loss and love, and how we find friendships in the most unlikely places.
Synopsis (Goodreads): 1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood 14 year old June Elbus, and that’s he uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about it, June’ world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life – someone who will help her to heal and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own self.
June is a 14-year old who has lost her best friend, her Uncle Finn, whom she loved most in the world. He was he confidant, the person who takes part in her favorite memories, the one person who she feels she can actually be herself around and who understands her. Tragically though, Finn has contracted HIV and dies of AIDS, leaving June feeling like her life has become one confusing, downward spiral. And then she meets Toby. Someone she didn’t even really know existed until her Uncle’s funeral. She finds out he was her late uncle’s partner, who her mother ad family view as “the killer,” the one who took her uncle away from them all. Feeling confused and frustrated herself, June attempts to keep Toby out of her life, but when he shows up at her house one day when she is alone and gives her, her Uncle’s tea set. Something in which she has always treasured, and with the promise of other things her uncle left her, June finds herself drawn to him realizing he knew a side of her uncle that she never did.
This book captured me right from the start. I used to work in HIV, so after reading what this book was all about, I knew I had to get it. I was not disappointed. From the very beginning my heart ached for many of the characters and I realized that this story was ultimately about love in its many forms. Whether it is the love of a dear uncle, a sister who picks on you relentlessly, a mother who is just trying to protect her children from the evils of the outside world, or the love you find in a new friendship you never thought would happen. Throughout the entire book, June is so vulnerable and I found myself wanting to protect her, while also wanting to let her experience situations that would push her to grow no matter how uncomfortable she might find herself to be. Her innocence is very endearing, and a lot of the time I felt I could relate to what she was feeling in her confusion towards life and its many questions. This is possibly why I might have also wanted to push her to try new things! And then there’s Toby. Oh, Toby! I absolutely loved him. His sincerity and patience is a gift, and his persistence in attempting to befriend June, when at first she deals constant low blows to him, is inspiring. The author did a fantastic job in shaping the characters and making them relatable to the reader. This book deals with some serious issues, but does so in a way that the reader roots for everyone. Even Greta, June’s sister, who is constantly hot and cold in their relationship, has demons she is struggling with from which you want to shield her. Not all is what it seems in this book, but that only enhances the writer’s goal for the reader. You learn to realize that there are always two sides to a story, and although on the surface some may seem perfect and that they have it all together, that is rarely the case.
I commend the Carol Rifka Brunt on a well written noel. I almost made it through the book without crying (was fighting them back ½ the time) but in the end I crumbled. I have not read many fiction novels lately that have done such a fantastic job showing the power that forgiveness, love and friendship truly have. This is definitely a recommended read!