Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler; published 2014 by St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Historical Fiction
Opening line: “I acted hateful to Dorrie the first time we met, a decade or so ago.”
Isabelle McAllister is a feisty and eccentric elderly widow who becomes the unlikely friend of Dorrie, her young black hairdresser. Isabelle asks Dorrie to take her on a roadtrip from Arlington to Cincinnati for a funeral. As they drive to Cincinnati, Isabelle slowly shares her life story with Dorrie, as Dorrie’s own life seems to fall to pieces.
The crux of it is: When Isabelle was growing up in 1930s Kentucky, she fell in love with and married Robert Prewitt, her family’s black housekeeper’s son. Their forbidden marriage was discovered the day after their wedding, and Isabelle’s family did everything they could to keep the two apart. It’s a heartbreaking story of youthful courage and love. What’s tragic is the shameful prejudice that attempts and ultimately succeeds in smashing Isabelle and Robert’s dreams.
This book is pretty much my ultimate recipe for the perfect story: strong heroine + fierce social justice battle + tragedy, ending in redemption. I ate it all up, bawled my eyes out (in a good way), and the very next day pushed it into my mom’s hands. She felt the same way I did.
My favorite part of the book was Isabelle’s gumption. “Gumption” has been one of my favorite words—and favorite personality qualities—since I first met Scarlett O’Hara. Isabelle’s got it. She grits her teeth and does her best to defy society’s pigheadedness. Ultimately, her biggest regret is that she gave up, gave in. It’s a sad moment, but you can’t blame her because I don’t know anyone who could have held out as long as she did.
The book caused me to reflect on the ways I give in to society’s pressures—subtle and otherwise. I might not ever change my mind and agree with what society is telling me, but after a while I get tired of fighting. Isabelle convinces Dorrie that she can’t give up; her family needs her to be strong, to love herself, to allow herself to be loved, and to forgive others.
The ending is one of the most beautiful and touching I’ve read in a very long time.
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