She Reads Blog Network last fall, and this is the title chosen for their February Book Club. Most bloggers link up towards the beginning of the month; I'm just a little bit late this month, as I'm just now getting back into the swing of blogging about anything at all! You can read more reviews of Calling Me Home by clicking here. You can join the book club discussion over at She Reads after you've read the book yourself!
A bit about the book (from the author's website): Sixteen-year-old Isabelle McAllister longs to escape the confines of her northern Kentucky hometown, but after her family's housekeeper's son rescues her from a Newport drunk, the boundaries seem smaller than ever.
Falling for a black boy in late 1930s Kentucky isn't just illegal, it's dangerous. Signs at the city limits warn Negroes, “Don’t let the sun set on you here.” Despite repeated warnings, Isabelle and Robert disregard the racial divide, starting a chain of events that threatens jobs, lives, and generations to come.
Decades later, black hairstylist Dorrie Curtis agrees to drive her elderly white client cross-country to a funeral. Over the years, Miss Isabelle has become more than just a customer, but the timing couldn't be worse. First, Dorrie's seeing a man she's afraid she could fall for, but one thing is more obvious than ever: Trust is not her strong suit. Second, she knows her teenager's in big trouble; he just hasn’t told her yet.
When a phone call from home confirms Dorrie's fears, Miss Isabelle's tale of forbidden love illuminates Dorrie’s dilemma, merging the past and present in a journey with unexpected detours and a bittersweet destination.
How I felt about the book (and why you should read it): Julie Kibler's Calling Me Home could have been just another tale of race relations in the south. I am going to fully admit that when I read the description, I thought, 'Great. Driving Miss Daisy, The Help, and To Kill a Mockingbird, all rolled up into one and redone for the upteenth time.' I couldn't have been more wrong.
First of all, the two main characters grab you and don't let go. Dorrie and Isabelle are two of the most engaging characters I've been introduced to in a long time. They aren't perfect, but neither are people in real life. Although we know Miss Isabelle during two different periods in her life (young adulthood and as an elderly woman), and Dorrie only as an adult, Dorrie is every bit as dynamic in only the present day.
Another aspect of Calling Me Home that I enjoyed was the way Kibler told her story. Varying between present day and flashbacks, we are introduced both to Dorrie and Miss Isabelle as they take a road trip north and to Isabelle as a young woman in the 1930s. Ostensibly a story Isabelle tells Dorrie as they drive, the 1930s story line becomes every bit as important -- perhaps more so -- as the present day plot. Kibler strikes the perfect balance between the two stories, building suspense by switching time periods, on more than one occasion. The technique certainly worked on me, as I raced to finish the book and find out how both stories concluded.
While this isn't necessarily a tale of happily-ever-after, it mirrors real life and will nevertheless leave readers satisfied in the end. Calling Me Home is a book I would recommend to anyone seeking a good story, those who like stories about race relations in our country, and those interested in relationships. Because at its heart, the novel is just that -- a story about human relationships in all the various forms they take: mother-child, friendship, romantic love, and even the sometimes instantly-deep relationship strangers form when they meet during happenstance and show kindness to one another.
Calling Me Home is Julie Kibler's debut novel. She grew up in Kentucky (among other places) and moved to Texas to attend college. I always think novels ring more true when the author writes what he or she knows. Case in point, this novel and its setting. The inspiration for the story came from Kibler's own family. She learned that her grandmother experienced a similar situation to the one Isabelle faces, and that inspired her to create a fictional version. She is currently at work on her next novel. You can learn more on her website, where you will find links to connect with Kibler on your favorite social media site.