Calling Me Home, the new novel by Julie Kibler, is a moving look at race relations and ill-fated love back in the 1930s as well as an examination of friendship between two very different women.
Dorrie Curtis is a single mother raising two kids and trying to make a living as a hairdresser. When she meets eighty nine year old Isabelle McAllister, she is a bit wary. Isabelle, a white woman, does not exhibit any racist behaviors, but she does earn the nickname “Miss Misarabelle” because of her cranky attitude. Dorrie, an African American woman, is a bit surprised when Miss Isabelle asks Dorrie to drive her to a funeral in Cincinnati. But, in an effort to learn more about Isabelle, whose hair she has been doing for five years, Dorrie agrees to drop everything and go. But whose funeral is it?
Dorrie has troubles of her own. She is divorced from a man that was not marriage material, and her son and daughter are teens. She has entered into a relationship with Teague, who seems to be a good man, but then again—Dorrie has experienced her share of men who seemed to be perfect at first and then end up losers.
On the way, Isabelle and Dorrie complete crossword puzzles stop to eat, and Isabelle begins opening up about her childhood in 1930s Kentucky. She lived in a town much like other small Southern towns—a combination of good old boys, small town values, and rampant racism. While black people were free to work as domestics, they had better not be out after dark. The signs outside the town warn everyone of this ironclad rule.
Isabelle is the child of the town doctor, and she begins an illicit relationship with Robert, the son of her family’s maid. Robert, a fine young man, is aware of the repercussions of their relationship, even if Isabelle, in her youth and naïveté, seems willing to take the risks. Their relationship does not go unnoticed by Isabelle’s domineering mother and her doltish brothers. How will this relationship proceed? What will the consequences be for Robert and Isabelle?
I enjoyed Calling Me Home immensely. Told in chapters alternating between the present (in Dorrie’s voice) and the 1930s (Isabelle’s voice), I felt as though each character rang true. I could almost imagine myself back in Kentucky in the 1930s. The unfolding of the friendship between the two characters felt authentic, and I enjoyed their interactions. Though their friendship was an unlikely one, it was touching and warmhearted. I loved the supporting characters as well. Each is well drawn and engaging.
At its heart a tale of forbidden love as well as enduring friendship, Calling Me Home was poignant and compelling. I cried a little—fair warning! Extremely well written, sensitive, and warmhearted.
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Regina