Calling Me Home

Written by Julie Kibler
Review by Anne Clinard Barnhill

Julie Kibler’s debut novel travels between the current era and the late 1930s to early ´40s.  The outer rim of the story concerns an unusual friendship between Dorrie, an African-American hairstylist, and Miss Isabelle, her 90-year-old white customer and friend.  When Miss Isabelle asks Dorrie to drive from Texas to Miss Isabelle’s former home in Kentucky for a mysterious funeral, Dorrie doesn’t realize she will become the caretaker of Miss Isabelle’s forbidden love story.

As that story unfolds, we discover Miss Isabelle is the daughter of the town doctor and, consequently, lives with more financial security than most of those trying to survive during the Great Depression.  Isabelle’s mother is more concerned with appearances than anything else, and this desire to impress others causes much conflict between mother and daughter.  Things become even more combustible as Isabelle matures into an independent young woman.

Isabelle finds friendship with Nell, the daughter of her family’s cook, and Nell’s brother, Robert.  When Isabelle decides to escape from one of the boring parties she’s required to attend and sneaks over to the seedy side of town with her friend, Trudy, to a dance hall, it is Robert who rescues her from an overly enthusiastic would-be lover.  That moment of connection is the spark that ignites a love affair between Isabelle and Robert, an affair that has serious consequences for them both.

Kibler leads the reader back in time with ease, and Isabelle’s story is wonderfully told.  In Robert, Kibler has created an appealing romantic lead — an honorable young man, intelligent and full of integrity.  In Isabelle, we find a woman ahead of her time, one who is willing to risk everything for love.