My admiration for Kathryn Stockett’s The Help made me hesitant about Calling Me Home until I read an interview with Julie Kibler on Women’s Fiction Writers. The material Julie shared peaked my curiosity as a reader and writer. I ordered the book, but when it arrived I shelved it.
Four months later I tossed it into a book bag with a few other novels and brought it to my aunt’s apartment for our weekly Story Time. My aunt loves non-fiction and biographies and has little tolerance for genre fiction. When her eyes started to go and she was forced to read large print books she was incensed. “Why do publishers think old people are only interested in mysteries and romance? We may forget what we had for breakfast, but we haven’t misplaced our intelligence.”
Imagine my surprise when Calling Me Home, a novel categorized as Women’s Fiction, earned this response from my aunt after I read the book flap. “That’s the one. I’m already hooked.” Once I started reading I knew the reason for her infatuation. My aunt is a ringer for Isabelle: eighty-nine, loves crossword puzzles, a bit cantankerous and although she didn’t marry a black boy, she eloped at sixteen to get out from under a repressive household and community.
If I read Calling Me Home on my own, I would’ve zipped through the pages. Reading aloud to my aunt allowed me to appreciate Kibler’s strength for characterization. Whether they were in the past or present, I never had to think about how to portray either Isabelle or Dorrie. Their vocal qualities shifted inside me as easily as a breath moves in and out.
Another area of effortlessness is Kibler’s ability to show Isabelle’s naivetés about the world and love. Seventeen-year old Isabelle’s thought process or lack of thought and prominence of emotions is so accurate it’s funny, and sad, given the complex situation she has thrust herself into.
But in spite of the heartfelt rendition of Dorrie’s and Isabelle’s stories, I kept the women at a distance until page 194 when Isabelle’s dreams were torn from her. During that scene my past rushed forward and all of my reluctance to read and embrace the novel became clear; Calling Me Home was too close to home. Isabelle’s story reminded me of how sweet I was on Jerome Blakemore when I was sixteen and how my father’s bigotry crushed what might’ve been a lasting relationship, just like Isabelle’s brothers and mother came between her and Robert Prewitt.
Once my catharsis ran its course I was all in. Throughout the rest of our time with Dorrie and Isabelle, my aunt and I cried, laughed and yelled at the characters for the decisions they made and the things they didn’t say. Is there any higher praise for an author than for readers to talk to their characters as if they are real? Bravo, Julie.
Calling Me Home is a story to read, share and talk about with all generations; a personal story with universal ripples.