Overall I liked this novel. It is a story of pain, of love, with both touching and tense moments, and the way it tackles the theme of AIDS works well within the chosen context (1987). I was only 8 in 1987, yet I still remember that people were scared and didn't understand what it was all about. I still remember asking my own mother, frightened, "Mom, will I get AIDS, too?" The whole fear and rejection permeating this novel, the way people considered this disease as "gay-only"... it all ties up within that scare, and some of the characters' reactions are thus rendered mean not out of sheer nastiness, but fear, ignorance, and misunderstanding. As annoying as those are, they remain, well, human.
Indeed, the characters weren't particularly likeable—there were times when I just wanted to slap them. Greta for being cruel instead of saying from the beginning what she really felt and wanted. June for being so self-centred and oblivious to other people around her, focused on Finn, Finn, Finn only—good thing she grows up a little in that regard. The absentee father, and the mother who was quick to judge. Part of me didn't like them, yet part of me also found them flawed in a human way. They acted out of loneliness, out of love, out of jealousy—all too human, again.
I must say that I really liked Toby, who had to remain hidden and would have ended up alone in his grief. He seemed so lost, and his feelings shone through that loss with an acute honesty, underlined by genuine smiles and spontaneity. I perceived him as someone who had had to pay for one mistake, didn't have much luck, who finally found true love, only to lose it again, and be shunned in the process. I don't think he deserved that. Nobody does.
However, I think that the portrayal of AIDs in general, how it was perceived at the time, is a strength, but also a weakness in this story. While it made sense to me as an adult who remembers that period, I think it wasn't properly exploited in a novel for younger people who didn't live at that time. When you read this book in "my" light, it's quite accurate in showing the irrational ways some people reacted; when you don't have the necessary hindsight, it actually doesn't do much to dispel all those "only gay guys get AIDS and OMG don't touch them they're dangerous!" notions. In that regard, I wish Tell The Wolves Are Home had gone further, shown more obviously how things changed for some of the characters, instead of relying on hints. Usually, I'm not too fond of novels that lay it thick; here, it may not have been thick enough, and the complex dynamics within the Elbus family (Finn included) weren't fully exploited.
In fact, in my opinion, it would have needed to be more openly confrontational sometimes. Somehow, the characters didn't really faced the consequences of their choices when it cames to shutting out good people out of their lives just for having AIDS. Somehow, they got away with too many shitty decisions, and this with barely some sliver of guilt.
(Also, I could say the same for some triggers in it—that they'd have needed to be shown in a different way. Like, Toby and June smoking together, doing things together in secrecy. I got how Toby must've felt lost, and some people, when they're like that, stop thinking and don't always make the best decisions. June's narrative should've made this obvious, yet didn't. In turn, it just made it seem like he was potentially getting her into drugs, rape-inducing/paedophiliac situations, and so on. The girl being only 14 may explain her lack of insight; still, it's a slippery slope, and could probably have been avoided.)
Still 3 stars for me because in the end, I liked it, I liked its depiction of the way everyone reacted to that specific disease in that specific era, no matter how ugly and stupid their reactions. But I'm not too happy about how some aspects panned out. Maybe because it's YA—maybe it's too focused on the "misunderstood teenager" side, instead of really going the whole way, that is, the mislabelled people whose "crime" was to have hit an unlucky spot and fallen sick.