I’m crazy behind in both reading (I’ve only just finished my 11th book this year, which means there are 41 left to read in just over 6 months) and writing (this is only my 3rd review of those 11 books. Oy.) But! I’m here! I’m reading and reviewing! Soldier on!
Julie Kibler’s novel Calling Me Home intrigued me from the cover. I know, I know. “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” But, seriously? Take a look at it. The simplicity, what’s missing and what’s present, the serenity of the composition, and tell me you’re not even a little bit curious about the black boy sitting next to the white girl and their story.
Because my god, what a story. At the heart, it’s a simple love story but the color of the two people’s skin, the location, and the time period, quickly take shape into a story that is anything but simple. Set in both 1939 and present day, Calling Me Home is about Isabelle Mcallister, a white physician’s daughter growing up in a white’s only town (no, really. They kick black people out at night. There’s a law and a sign and everything. You can work there during the day, but god help you if you’re found there at night without a white adult escort or repute. Idiots.) in Kentucky, and Robert Prewitt, a black boy a year her senior who wants to be a doctor. He is also the son of her family’s housekeeper.
That’s right: Kentucky. 1939. Segregation. You know from the start that this love is doomed. But how it comes about in the first place, what they do to try to make it work, what people do to stop them, and the ways that love can stay alive even in the face of horrific cruelty is what makes this book glow. The narrative is also entertaining because Isabelle, nearly ninety in present day, narrates her own story while on a road trip to a funeral with her black hairdresser, Dorrie. Picturing the pair, a feisty little old white woman and a single, black mom in her 30’s, on the road together makes me want to be a fly in the backseat. And Dorrie’s got her own set of problems, which offset Isabelle’s well. Her son has gotten himself in a whole heap of trouble, which comes out while this mom and Isabelle are on the road. She’s not sure if her current boyfriend is one of the good ones or a deadbeat like her ex-husband. Dorrie also doesn’t trust her ability to tell the difference, something I can relate to all too well.
Overarching themes like how to tell if you’re in love with the right person, teenagers and how they have their own ideas of how, when, and who to love, the bonds of family and just how strong they are and aren’t, dynamics between different types of husbands and wives, various ways to neglect or abandon someone, and infidelity and how it can affect or sometimes not affect relationships come up and are dealt with in ways that I, at least, found fresh, funny, heartbreaking, and quite profound. It’s just a fantastic book. I adored it.
The dialogue changes perfectly between 1939 and present day, the character growth is amazing over the course of the book, and the plot twists and turns had me crying and once I even gasped. Literally.
Calling Me Home skillfully and often painfully crosses color lines and cuts straight to the heart. I got this out from the library, and I’m trying to streamline my possessions, but I plan to buy this book at some point.