Wow Ok...This book. This book was heartbreaking and wonderful. It was a coming of age story, it was a self-portrait, it was a reproach, it was an apology, it was an unmasking,it was a love story, it was a love story...It was a love story.
June Elbus is an average girl, actually, she's a weird girl. She's fourteen and she likes the middle ages. She wears long skirts and she likes to pretend she's from another time. She's not really pretty and a pretty average student, she doesn't have many friends. She isn't anything special. Not like her sister Greta who is smart, and beautiful and talented. Not June though, June is kind of invisiblle. Except to her Uncle Finn, to her uncle June is his best girl. They are the best of friends. Finn is an acclaimed artist and he shares his intersts and his world with June. No one gets June like Finn does, no one, and no EVER will. He is the one she loves the most and he loves her...The problem is Finn is diying. It's 1987 and Finn has this ugly dark disease named AIDS and he is going to die.
As a last gift to June's family Finn is doing a portrait of June and Greta. Every Sunday they drive with their mom to Manhattan and sit in Finn's apartment while he paints. Things are strained in their family. Their mother seems almost angry with Finn for being sick, and Greta and June barely speak now. Greta is cruel and taunting and reminds June all the time of her social awkwardness and failings. It didn't use to be like that with Greta and June they used to be best of friends, "The Elbus Girls", everyone called them. But now the only person that gets June is diying.
When Finn dies June is shattered. She is so alone, and then at the funeral she sees this man. Standing outside and he looks sad and like he wants to go inside. He's the man that had called the house the day Finn died. Then Greta tells her that the man is, Toby, Finn's boyfriend, the one that gave him AIDS. June's world sinks even lower with this news, how could she not know of such an important part of Finn's life? Who was this monster that did this to her uncle? How was it that she was sharing Finn's love with someone else, and never knew him? Did she even know Finn?
One day Toby sends June a gift and asks to meet her and she reluctantly accepts, from there they begin a reluctant friendship. These two people who loved Finn the most in his life. His two loves. Two loves that were so different, and yet for both of them Finn was the most important thing in the world, he was the source of that was beautiful and all that was good, and now all they has was each other to hold on to Finn's memory.
But June is young girl and she is selfish and she struggles with accepting who Toby was in Finn's life. He's a nice guy, but can she like the man that killed her uncle by giving him that disease? Her mom hates Toby. June can't even say that she's been going into the city to see him. But Toby's dying too and he needs her, he needs someone. Meanwhile there is June's difficulties at home, the cruelty her sister continues to throw her way, her insecurities, their anger...And then there's that portrait.
This book broke me down. To pieces. June's character was a hard one to follow at times, she was a girl. She was confused and grieving and didn't know who she could count on once Finn was gone. Discovering the reasons behind why Toby had always been a secret changed her perception of her mother and her family.
...And Toby, a dying man who with Finn gone had nothing left but to wait to for his own death. But those few months of friendship with June gave him the opportunity to learn a side a Finn he could never see. Their connection was heart breaking and comforting. Toby is so different from Finn he is scattered and has a past, but he loved Finn so much and is so lost without him.
This story had so many angles. There is also the look at the stigma and the tragedy that was the AIDS epidemic in the 1980's my heart broke a thousand times for all the men that like Finn and Toby had to die in silence, being repudiated and cast out by their families. It was a reproach to the shroud of silence which was thrown over the AIDS epidemic and how it was allowed to go on, while thousands of men died,
men who many had to choose between their families and the men they loved, and then had to die alone.
It was a self portrait, we saw June inside and out, we understood her thoughts and her feelings even the ones that were ugly and dark. She showed us everything, the reality of what she felt for Finn even if it was something that troubled her. We saw her be moved to compassion for Toby. Her friend Toby. We saw her finally see her sister and her own struggles.
Greta was a hateful character for most of the book and even in the end I don't think I ever really liked her, but I finally understood her anger as petty as it was. June's mother was a troubling character she I think of all the characters was the biggest wolf. She let her frustrations and selfishness make her into a cruel thoughtless person, and she ate away the bond she had with her brother. All the characters were so well done.
We never get to see where June ends, we say goodbye to her still at the age of fourteen, still heartbroken and and beginning to understand the ways of cruelty and unfairness, but I think she was changed forever. For the better.
So many loves in this book, between siblings, family, lovers, friends, music, art...
I could ramble for hours about this book. All I can say it's that it is absolutely wonderful. Anyone who has struggled in their teenage years will connect to June, and anyone who had any interest in LGBT Community rights and history in the US should read this book. WONDERFUL.
Be prepared to show up to work puffy and groggy, because you will cry until you can't cry anymore and then you'll cry again, and you won't be able to stop reading until the last page.