My rating: 8/10. Very nicely done, especially for a first novel.
I’m sure this one will deeply appeal to the YA crowd, though I found it in the Adult section of the library. There’s nothing here that a modern teen couldn’t handle with one hand tied between her (or his, though this feels rather like a girl’s book, if I may be so bold as to stereotype it) back.
I’m considering tagging this one historical fiction, because the sense of a very particular time is so strong, and it captures those early days of the AIDS epidemic so well, when we were all more than a little scared and confused, and traded rumours in whispers. The story is set in 1987, twenty-five years ago.
The internet is swarming with reviews on this one; I’ll try to keep this simple.
Young June Elbus, fourteen years old and deeply embroiled in the angst of adolescence, has one person she can count on unconditionally, her Uncle Finn. Finn, a renowned painter, now leads a semi-reclusive life in New York; he hasn’t exhibited anything for years, though he is still painting. He’s working, in fact, on a dual portrait of June and her older sister Greta.
The portrait is of supreme importance to everyone concerned; it is likely the last work Finn will ever complete, for he is dying of that mysterious and deadly new disease, AIDS.
Finn’s sister, June’s mother, is brutally shaken by Finn’s death early on in the story, as she has some unfinished business with her brother. She vents her anger at Finn’s lover, the unknown man who she claims has deliberately infected Finn and who is now, in her eyes, his murderer.
June has some baggage of her own. She has been secretly in love – full-blown romantic love – with her uncle, a middle-aged gay man (and June knows this), who, to further complicate things, is June’s godfather. The two share a deeply emotional connection, though Finn has many secrets which June is only to find out about after his death.
With Finn’s demise, and the entry of the mysterious lover, Toby, into the plot, things crank up a notch, and the narrative moves from completely believable to slightly fantastic, in the stretching-of-belief-and-probability sort of fantastic. But it makes for a good story, so allowances can easily be made.
All in all, a very likeable, suitably complex heroine and an interesting plot. I did find it quite predictable in many ways; people did what I thought they would, and the big secrets were telegraphed fairly clearly; clues were distributed with a generous hand.
Beautifully written, with an abundance of heart-tugging emotion. Though I didn’t personally tear up at all, old cynic that I am, as so many of the reviwers over on Goodreads did.
Good handling of the gay characters; this can be hard to get right without straying, even unintentionally, into parody, and I think Brunt did a very good job with that.
Absolutely gorgeous cover, which reflects the excellent content within. One to share with your teens, and borrow to read yourself.