Review: Calling Me Home, by Julie Kibler

Calling Me Home, by Julie Kibler. St. Martin’s Press.

I think I read Calling Me Home in two days. Setting aside the fact that I read quickly, I imagine this book is still extremely readable to those who don’t read three books a week. It’s compelling, it’s interesting, and it’s got a good love story to carry you through (Who doesn’t love a good love story?)

There are really two stories at play here. One involves 89-year-old Isabelle asking her hairdresser to accompany her on a road trip from Texas to Cincinnati. She has to go to a funeral, and while she won’t reveal whose funeral she’s attending, she doesn’t want to go alone. So Dorrie, her hairdresser and close friend, agrees to go with her.

The second story is still Isabelle’s. She’s much younger, in 1930s Kentucky, and she’s fallen in love with the son of her parents’ housekeeper. She’s white, he’s black, and this is a problem. They’re in the heart of segregation, to the point that he’s not even allowed in her city’s limits after dark.

We’ve all read Romeo & Juliet-esque stories before. We’ve all read stories about racial tension. But I like how this story approaches the difficult subject. For one, it’s a lot more realistic than the other stories tend to be. In the others, the characters’ love for each other seems to transcend all other hardships they may face. As long as they have each other, nothing will get in their way.

In Calling Me Home, there are consequences. Whether we agree with them or not, 1930s Kentucky has some pretty strict rules regarding inter-racial relationships. And as much as Isabelle and Robert want to be together, the consequences of these rules don’t disappear once they profess their undying love. They follow them, and the result is heartbreaking at times, but it makes sense.

In addition, the modern-day element adds another level to the story. The entire novel is told in first-person. Isabelle’s portion recounts her younger years, and Dorrie’s portion brings us back to the present. Essentially, Isabelle is using this road trip to tell Dorrie of her life, which comes full circle once we find out who the funeral is for. But the present-day section also serves another person: it examines the current state of race relations. We see, through Dorrie’s eyes, what has changed in the seventy-or-so years this novel covers. We also see, however, what has not changed.

Calling Me Home is now available in paperback. Read an excerpt of the novel, and check back tomorrow for an interview with Kibler.

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About katepadilla

I write for the Spencer Daily Reporter in Spencer, Iowa. I keep blogs lifebythebooks, Save Me, San Francisco, and Beauty and Beast Buy a House. I'm also hard at work writing a short story collection inspired by the music of Train.

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