Review by Florence Vella
A captivating read of grief, love, and growing up set in New York during the 1980s AIDS epidemic.
There is only one person who 14-year-old June Elbus – an observant, medieval-era enthusiast – feels understands her, her uncle and renowned painter, Finn. Not knowing which Sunday will be the last as her uncle grows more ill with AIDS, she treasures the moments spent in his apartment watching him paint a portrait of her and Greta, her older sister. Savouring the smell of lavender and orange in the air, all the while unaware of the hidden secrets right in front of her very eyes.
June was always the first to arrive home from school, even after her routine course through the woods. With her sister rehearsing for the play and her parents working late during tax season, she’d gotten used to the quiet solitary. Though one afternoon, the phone rings. A man she’s never heard before with a British accent speaks on the other end, telling her that Finn has passed.
Through family secrets, sneaking away on train rides to the city, unlikely friends and mystery letters, June learns that the ones you love are shaped by other people in ways you never knew.
This poignant tale told through the lens of 14-year-old June as she narrates life before and after her gay uncle’s death far exceeds the average coming-of-age plot.
Brunt’s prose is simple and unadorned, yet undoubtedly engrossing and full of hidden gems. Think romantic with an idealist streak. The plot effortlessly carries the reader through real-time events and recalls memories so wholly that you find yourself grieving alongside the characters.
The written unfiltered thoughts of the protagonist throughout the chapters are full of intricacies and description, and make a large part of what makes this novel a unique experience to read. She takes the reader along through emotionally-charged decisions, unsettling thoughts, loneliness, and love in a compelling way. Strings you didn’t even notice were there pull together and play out as a satisfying chord.
Indulging the reader in what is loved from a classic coming-of-age story – first loves, sibling bonds, and the turmoil that comes with acceptance – topped off with distinctively clever twists makes this a novel truly unlike any other in its genre.
The book is available, amongst hundred others, at our Rainbow Library, open 3pm-6pm on Tuesdays and Thursday (excluding public holidays). Become a member here.