1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her 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, June’s 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 heart.
At Finn’s funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn’s apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she’s not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most.
It actually makes me the teensiest bit upset when I come across this one book that nearly everybody seems to gush over and cry over and I find myself in the minority of people who can’t see why it’s so loved.
We meet June. She is an awkward and antisocial teenager who only seems to blossom around her beloved Uncle Finn. Her parents are both accountants and are only mildly present in their children’s lives amid the tax season, leaving them to to refer to that yearly time period as “orphan season”.
Set in New York in the 1980s, AIDS has only begun to touch upon the world and it is this disease that has come to claim Finn, a prominently established painter who fled the artistry scene years prior to the story. With a ticking timer placed on his existence, Finn asks permission of his dear sister the capability to leave his nieces with something to remember him by: a painting of June and Greta. It is left unfinished. Finn hovers over the entire story, both in June’s heart and in the aftermath of his death.
Greta is June’s elder sister by two years. She is more of a social butterfly who belongs beneath the heat of the spotlight set above a stage and a full-house audience. She has a bitterness about her, a meanness instilled in her; but there are days when her walls are down and June is able to recognize the sister who was once her best friend shine through, if only for a short while.
Toby is the one person in the world whose love for Finn could match up to June’s. Their lives, intertwined by someone who no longer graces the world with his presence, have been spent grieving in separate corners until one day, forging a friendship could very well be the one thing to save them both from dying of a broken heart.
Grief is something you wear on your skin. It permeates your clothes, it seeps into your bloodstream. Reading of June’s pain, especially because it’s a completely different one, was very readable. I don’t think I’ve ever read about a young girl infatuated with her uncle, her best friend, her confidant. But grief is immeasurable so I was deeply disturbed by the following scene involving June and her mother:
“Really, June,” she said, “I’m the one who should be sad. He was my little brother. I was the one who took care of him when we were kids. Do you know what it’s like to have a father in the military? Do you? Moving base to base. I was the one in charge of making sure Finn was okay. I was expected to look after him. Me, June. I simply will not allow you to continue moping around the way you’ve been. It’s out of all proportion. This feeling-sorry-for-yourself business. I’m the one who should be a mess, June. I’m the one who lost a brother.”
How dare she. As a mother, this way of thinking, this was of speaking to a fourteen-year-old daughter was completely alien to me. This woman expected everyone else’s desolation to be a lesser extent of her own. Basically, she’s saying, “You’re not supposed to hurt or miss him more than me.”
As for her two daughters, I expected one of them to end up dead by the end of the novel. The parents were 100% oblivious to the whereabouts of one daughter, and Brunt did not address the teenage alcoholism she chose to include in her novel. That was a strike for me.
There were moments, sparks of greatness. But if Brunt was going to compose a novel based on sparks of greatness, there should have been more. It’s as easy as one amazing line to get me bawling my eyes out whilst reading a book (which I love) but I got none of that here. Still an okay novel but it never did cross the line into “unputdownable” for me.
- “You can build a whole world around the tiniest of touches.”
- “I thought of all the different kinds of love in the world. I could think of ten without even trying. The way parents love their kid, the way you love a puppy or chocolate ice cream or home or your favorite book or your sister. Or your uncle. There’s those kinds of loves and then there’s the other kind. The falling kind. The husband-and-wife love, girlfriend-and-boyfriend love, the way you love an actor in a movie. But what if you ended up in the wrong kind of love? What if you accidentally ended up in the falling kind with someone it would be so gross to fall in love with that you could never tell anyone in the world about it? The kind you’d have to crush down so deep inside yourself that it almost turned your heart into a black hole? The kind you squashed deeper and deeper down, but no matter how far you pushed it, no matter how much you hoped it would suffocate, it never did? Instead, it seemed to inflate, to grow gigantic as time went by, filling every spare space you had until it was you. You were it. Until everything you ever saw or thought led you back to one person. The person you weren’t supposed to love that way.”
- “I know how much you loved your uncle. And I did too. He was my baby brother. I loved him to pieces.”
“Love, not loved. We can still love him.”
1. How Did I Fall In Love With You – Backstreet Boys
2. In Loving Memory – Alter Bridge
3. Who Knew – Pink
4. Fix You – Coldplay
5. You Can’t Break A Broken Heart – Kate Voegele
6. Someone’s Watching Over Me – Hilary Duff