Whistling Women begins as Addie Bates, 32, who lives in a nudist colony in northern California in the mid-1930s, learns that her days there are numbered, along with other women of her vintage. Nothing personal, just “old nudists just aren’t good business,” as another aging woman tells her. Not only that, but Addie is dismayed to learn she won’t be able to duck out of being part of the colony’s exhibit at the World Fair in San Diego. Whistling Women’s chapters skip back and forth between the ’30s present and Addie’s past: being orphaned, living in an orphanage, then being rescued by her older, married sister, who brings her to San Diego. What happened then is why Addie dreads going back to Southern California, why she joined the nudist colony to begin with.
Whistling Women is the story of why Addie and her sister are estranged and the question of whether they’ll heal their relationship – with the sisters’ two very different daughters complicating and pushing the matter along.
I’ve been impressed by Lake Union’s authors, and this Lake Union author, Kelly Romo, didn’t disappoint. Whistling Women is a well-crafted book that puts readers into the lives of the two generations of sisters. It’s also quirky, with the nudist colony backdrop. The nudist business (curious), the title (from “A whistling woman and a crowing hen always come to some bad end”), and the cover (why is the woman wearing a bathing suit?) all bemused me to different degrees, but in the end I was won over by the unexpected yet absolutely believable twists and revelations in Romo’s solid storytelling.