It has been a handful of months now that I've been reading the monthly books chosen and featured by She Reads, the wonderful website dedicated to all things bookish. My takeaway regarding She Reads is this...they are on a ROLL with the books they have been selecting! I can't even explain to you how this monthly book selection has become a highlight...it is like a little happy bonus every month.
I'd not heard a single thing about February's selection "Calling Me Home" but from the very first page it was almost impossible to put down. Here is the premise.
Synopsis: Over the years, 89 year-old Isabelle McAllister has forged a warm friendship with her hairdresser Dorrie, despite the fact that most would find the bond unlikely. Isabelle is a fussy Southern white woman, and Dorrie is a young single black mother of two children...but the two have grown close. Still, Dorrie is taken aback when Isabelle asks her to drive her from Texas to Ohio so that she may attend a funeral. Despite their friendship, Dorrie knows little about Isabelle's background, and has no clue who has died. But because of her love and respect for the old woman, she agrees.
On the road, with snacks and crossword puzzles in hand, the story is slowly revealed. When Isabelle was a 17 year-old in 1930's Kentucky, she fell in love with Robert Prewitt, the handsome black son of the family housekeeper. Not only was this union frowned upon, it was illegal and if revealed to Isabelle's family and community, might even have gotten Robert killed. Isabelle's story of her one true love, and the lifetime of heartbreak and consequences it brought her, is shocking and devastating to Dorrie. Not only does it put Dorrie's problems in perspective, but makes her glad she can be there for her friend.
My thoughts: One thing my rather lame synopsis will never convey is how easy this book was to read. (The topic itself was NOT easy, don't get me wrong.) But the prose was smooth and conversational and just flowed right off the page. It is hard to explain but some stories are written so seamlessly, you pick it up and suddenly you are 200 pages into it. This is not a throw-away complement for me to give. This reading experience is not one I have often.
The subject matter, however, is visceral. My heart just broke in two...the losses in Isabelle's life were beyond comprehension. And as a reader, I felt every emotion because of the tangible chemistry between Isabelle and Robert. The impossibility of the relationship, the brutality towards blacks, the unfairness of it all...I was distraught and frustrated and wanted to stomp my feet! And these are all good things. If a book can make me FEEL, then it has done it's job.
Yet it was a beautiful love story, and a street level view of race relations back in the '30's. It reminded me so much of "The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove" by Susan Gregg Gilmore (which I would highly recommend as well). This is not a book I will soon forget.
4.5 out of 5 stars