Monday, 25 February 2013

Calling Me Home

Author: Julie Kibler
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: e-book Advanced Reading Copy
Source: NetGalley
First Published: February 12, 2013
Publisher: St Martin's Press
First Line: "I acted hateful to Dorrie the first time we met, a decade or so ago."

Note:  My sincere thanks to NetGalley and St Martin's Press for providing me with a complimentary e-copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Publisher's Description: Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler is a soaring debut interweaving the story of a heartbreaking, forbidden love in 1930s Kentucky with an unlikely modern-day friendship

Eighty-nine-year-old Isabelle McAllister has a favor to ask her hairdresser Dorrie Curtis. It's a big one. Isabelle wants Dorrie, a black single mom in her thirties, to drop everything to drive her from her home in Arlington, Texas, to a funeral in Cincinnati. With no clear explanation why. Tomorrow.

Dorrie, fleeing problems of her own and curious whether she can unlock the secrets of Isabelle's guarded past, scarcely hesitates before agreeing, not knowing it will be a journey that changes both their lives.

Over the years, Dorrie and Isabelle have developed more than just a business relationship. They are friends. But Dorrie, fretting over the new man in her life and her teenage son’s irresponsible choices, still wonders why Isabelle chose her.

Isabelle confesses that, as a willful teen in 1930s Kentucky, she fell deeply in love with Robert Prewitt, a would-be doctor and the black son of her family's housekeeper—in a town where blacks weren’t allowed after dark. The tale of their forbidden relationship and its tragic consequences makes it clear Dorrie and Isabelle are headed for a gathering of the utmost importance and that the history of Isabelle's first and greatest love just might help Dorrie find her own way

My Thoughts:  I read this book a couple of weeks ago while I was vacationing in Florida and I have to tell you -- this was a very hard book to put down.  It's heart-warming story of forbidden love and an unlikely friendship that has great main characters and an emotional ending that ensures that this book will stay with me for a long time.

I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised to learn that this was Ms Kibler's debut novel.  Not every author is able to write a story that flows back and forth between two different eras without a few bumps in the storyline but Ms Kibler does so fluently and flawlessly.  It's interesting to note that Ms Kibler got the idea to write this book after she discovered that her grandmother had fallen in love with a black man in her youth. At that time the hope of having an interracial relationship was almost infeasible and that is how this story was born.

But it's the relationship and bond between thirty-something Dorrie, a black single mother of two and eighty-nine year old Isabelle, an elderly white woman in Texas, that made these two characters stand out for me. They are, sadly even in modern times, viewed as an unlikely pair which causes some small minded people to look at them with suspicion.  

It's through Dorrie and Isabelle's narratives, which were so engaging, that the story really comes to life.  Isabelle's flashbacks to the 1930's and 1940's helps the reader to gain more insight into what life was like back then for both Whites and Blacks in Kentucky and how even though Blacks had rights they still were far from being treated as equals or even respectfully by their white peers.  

I'd love to think that we've come a very long way from racial discrimination but after reading about how people responded to Isabelle and Dorrie in a local restaurant it made me wonder and made me, quite frankly, sad that we may have not come as far as we think we have.  Personally, I felt that Dorrie and Isabelle's friendship was believable, they had a deep connection and it never felt forced for the sake of making a good read. It's authentic and I felt their connection strongly.

I also enjoyed seeing Isabelle at different ages (as a spunky, opinionated 89 year old as well as a teenage girl and young woman) and seeing what happened in her life to make her into the 89 year old woman we first meet.  Sometimes it's good to remind ourselves (as I do/did with my own grandparents) that the older generation has not always been old.  That they had a long life before their hair turned grey and if we just listen we could learn a thing or two from their experience.  This is one of the things about this book that I loved.  How Isabelle's life story was the catalyst to help Dorrie deal with and come to terms with the issues she was facing in her life. A passing down of knowledge from one generation to the next.

But I digress ...

Now let's talk about the ending (without divulging any info), shall we?  I loved it.  It shocked me so much that I had to read it THREE times because I just couldn't believe how wonderfully the author sprung this truth on me.  I actually sucked in my breath, whispered "No!" and proceeded to get a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.  A wonderful ending to a great book. 

Calling Me Home is a beautiful story that successfully deals with many topics.  It's a historical fiction read that deals with interracial marriage, civil rights, parenting and women's rights.  But mostly it's about forbidden love and a friendship that, sadly, society still doesn't whole-heartedly support. 

It's a story about the importance of handing down wisdom from older generations to the new.  

It's a story that focuses on what ties people together instead of the differences (race, gender, generation) we allow to push us apart.

I highly recommend this book.

My Rating:4.5/5 stars

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