Thanks to the arrival of Baby Pierce last month, I got an early start on my September reading challenge book, Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler. Postpartum recovery and breastfeeding allowed me lots of sitting–aka reading–time. I chose Calling Me Home to read next because a digital version of it was available for check-out from our local library. I’m finding it easier to use my iPad to read books while holding and nursing our newborn son.
My sister, Julie, recommended Calling Me Home to me. As an elementary school teacher and mother of two young girls, Julie reads picture books aplenty but finds reading time for herself difficult to come by. However, the librarian at her school gave her a copy of Kibler’s novel last year, and she chose it for me to read, also. In Julie’s words, “It is significant to me because I am actually still reading it. :)”
Calling Me Home follows two unlikely friends–89-year-old Isabelle McAllister and her 30-something hair stylist, Dorrie Curtis–as they travel from Texas to Cincinnati for a funeral. Isabelle is white; Dorrie is black. On the road, Isabelle tells Dorrie her story, which is illustrated in the novel as a series of flashbacks to 1939. At seventeen, Isabelle fell in love with Robert Prewitt, a young black man who worked for her family in a small Kentucky town which forbid African Americans from within its boundaries after dark. Calling Me Home is essentially Isabelle and Robert’s story, although Isabelle’s reflections on the past have a profound influence on Dorrie, a single mother of two with her own romantic difficulties.
I was skeptical of the novel at first, as the writing was a bit too colloquial for my taste and the plot appeared to be predictable. While my opinion of the writing remained unchanged to the end, my initial assessment of the plot did not. Kibler surprised me, in a good way, with her story arc more than once. She kept me reading, intrigued about what else she was going to reveal.
Calling Me Home also felt timely, despite its focus on the past. Kibler weaves in some of the modern-day realities of being black in America rather than neatly saying that all is now resolved between blacks and whites. Just one look at the headlines of today shows that racial divisions remain. I appreciate that Kibler did not gloss over that fact.
In the end, I gave Calling Me Home a solid 3 stars on Goodreads.