Carol Rifka Brunt’s debut novel is magical. It’s everything a reading experience should be. I was frustrated when my kids woke too early in the morning or too early from their naps and interrupted my reading time. All I wanted to do was read this book until I had finished it. I wasn’t expecting to be moved, but I was. I even had tears at the end, and my friends, that’s not common for me. I’m not a book crier.
In 1987, the US was filled with uncertainty and paranoia regarding AIDS and the gay community. For 14 year old June Elbus, the questions and fear are overcome with love for her Uncle Finn. During his final days, he paints a portrait of June and her older sister Greta, which is a focal point of the novel. After Finn dies, questions begin to emerge about his life and the painting, propelling June into a search for answers about the dearest person in her life. She discovers Toby, a man Finn shared his life with who she has never met, and a love for art that made him famous while making her mother resentful on both counts. Toby pursues a friendship with June in a final gasp to keep Finn’s spirit alive as they both realize how connected they have been all along.
It is a breathtaking novel about navigating life, death, adolescence, and friendship. Brunt’s style is flawless. Her writing is smooth and poignant, sliding into your mind and taking root. There’s a familiar comfort in the characters’ awkwardness and a genuine approach to their emotions. They felt human, as if I had tiptoed into someone’s recollection rather than someone’s imagination.
It’s truly incredible.