"I knew almost right away Miss Isabelle carried troubles more significant than worrying about the color of my skin. As pretty as she was for an eighty-year-old woman, there was something dark below the surface, and it kept her from being soft. But I was never one to press for all the details—could be that was part of the beauty of the thing. I've learned that people talk when they're ready. Over the years, she became much more than just a customer. She was good to me. I hadn't ever said so out loud, but in ways, she was more like a mother than the one God gave me. When I thought it, I ducked, waiting for the lightening to strike.
Still, the favor Miss Isabelle asked me, it did come as a surprise."
Calling Me Home is debut author Julie Kibler's story of a heartbreaking, forbidden love in 1930's Kentucky and an unlikely modern-day friendship.
Dorrie's life hasn't turned out as planned. After marrying her high school sweetheart, she dreamed of white picket fences—instead she ended up a single mom running her own small beauty salon in East Texas. She's thinks she's finally found a guy, a good guy, but her previous betrayals by a list of losers has left her unable to trust.
Yet she barely thinks twice when Miss Isabelle, a longtime elderly customer who has turned into a dear friend, asks Dorrie to escort her to a funeral in Cincinnati. The next day. With no real explanation as to why. Close up her shop and leave her kids for a week? Sure—she has some things to work out anyway (including a nagging suspicion that her teen son may soon be a daddy) and, well, Miss Isabelle needed her.
Once the car trip begins, the two women of different generations and skin colors open up about their pasts. But this is really Miss Isabelle's story. She confesses how at seventeen she fell deeply, madly in love Robert Prewitt, a would-be doctor and the son of her family's black housekeeper. These things did not happen in 1939, in a small Kentucky town where blacks were not even allowed to set foot after dark.
Julie Kibler spins a wonderful tale piping with strong female voices. The story kept me up late not only reading, but reflection upon how horrible things were not so long ago, and how things still aren't quite as they should be. The blatant racism—signs on the edge of town telling "negros" to get out by dark—may be a thing of the past, but the subtle sneers and looks still linger for some.
At times Dorrie and Isabelle's interwoven stories got me spitting mad, and mind went off on silent tirades about ignorance and injustice and just what the hell is wrong with some people and wishing I could banish the intolerant folks to their own island. And then I thought about my son, and how at age six he tried to tell me about one of the kids he'd befriended at the park. I'd asked him to point him out amidst the whole mess of kids tearing around the playground. It took a seemingly infinite amount of descriptors (brown hair, blue shirt, tall, loud voice, dinosaur shoes, standing by that girl) before he even mentioned that the boy had "brown skin." It wasn't important enough to be noticed or commented upon. It gave me hope for the future.
But this book isn't just about race relations. At its heart is a love story—several, in fact. It's a story about following your heart no matter what odds you must overcome. It's a story about learning to trust your heart after it's failed you so many times. And it's a story about how kindness and love can form bonds far stronger than genetics, how family is what you make it.
I closed Calling Me Home with a delicate gasp, a shy tear, and a heartfelt smile.
This is one you'll pass along to your friends.
Calling Me Home is the February She Reads book club pick.
Enter to win one of the TEN copies She Reads is giving away, courtesy of St. Martin’s Press (just leave a comment on their post (linked here)–winners will be chosen on Friday)
Calling Me Home
by Julie Kibler
$24.95 [hardback] $11.99 [Kindle]
St. Martin's Press
*I received this book courtesy of St. Martin's Press and the She Reads Blogger Network. All opinions are my own.