In this literary coming-of-age debut set against the height of the AIDS epidemic, we follow 14 year-old June, a refreshingly under-self-aware protagonist tasked with discovering her beloved, recently-departed uncle Finn’s past. The once-famous artist’s final portrait of June and sister Greta becomes the still centrepiece of her emotionally tumultuous life: petrified yet ever-changing to the beholder.
Brunt captures sibling rivalry with almost terrifying aplomb to paint the picture of a weird wee sister striving for approval. Self-doubt mars June’s attempts to read the complex portrait of her family’s conflicted grief; meanwhile Brunt lays subtle hints to gather beyond June’s first-person narration.
Unspoken tensions and a gradual uncovering of characters’ secret pasts build, making the novel an intriguing slow-burner with enough substance to back it up. At times too keen for big resolutions, this is nonetheless a solid effort that elevates the bildungsroman beyond today’s love-triangle-filled world of YA fiction.