She Reads: Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler

(Contains spoilers)

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This is a story that deserves to be spoken about with respect. Author Julie Kibler transports you back and forth through time as you hear stories exchanged between the two main characters, Isabelle McAllister and Dorrie Curtis. Isabelle is an elderly white woman in her 90s with no surviving family and one beloved friend, Dorrie, a black woman in her early 40s. The two have built up an almost familial bond since Isabelle wandered into the salon that Dorrie owns and became her favorite client several years prior.

It begins with Isabelle asking Dorrie if she would be willing to drive her to Cincinnati, Ohio for a funeral.  Dorrie has such a soft spot for the old woman, she agrees and sets plans for her salon while she is away.

As the two set out on their road trip, Isabelle begins to recall when she was only 17 years old and growing up in a town called Shalerville, Kentucky, which was a “sundown” town in the 1930s. Isabelle grew up in a prominent family in her community but harbored quite the quiet rebellion for the closeminded lives that her parents led and forced her to lead, while her two older brothers were allowed to do whatever they pleased, no matter the horror. She tells of an encounter with a boy she had known all her life while they were caught in a thunderstorm together, that he kissed her and stole her heart. Though she then softly and sadly explains that it was illegal for them to be together then because he was black.

As they travel on, Dorrie grows more invested in Isabelle’s recollections of the past and begins to reflect on situations in her own life which had consumed and challenged her. Isabelle tells of secret letters, stolen moments, stolen passion and every challenge that followed alongside their mission to be with one another. She and Dorrie exchange deep and heartfelt stories of struggle, the cruelty of the world and whether time truly transcends it all.

This book will make you both laugh and cry. You will have moments of soft joy as you smile at the memory of your own butterflies, and moments where your heart aches so deeply for two young souls who only ever wanted to be in love, that you think you might collapse from its weight. Kibler does a breathtaking job taking each page and storyline into such startling detail that both the love and loss will feel like your own.

After I finished this book, I took several days to myself without any discussion. I needed to process everything that I had just lived through, through the eyes of these characters who now seemed so real, it’s as if I knew them personally. I felt real emotions for them – for the things I had just learned to be true, that were never fully taught in school. My heart ached in ways I do not think I know how to fully capture in writing. There is a horrific history to this nation concerning racism and this story serves as a rude awakening, even if you already thought you were. When I was finally ready to delve into this book with someone, I shared my remorse over the pieces of knowledge that I had only just learned and someone very dear to me replied, “There are things they don’t teach you. Somethings you just don’t learn that way. You learn through life, through experience and knowledge, and now you know and you’re responsible for it. So, you take that, and you do good with it.”

I believe this to be true. So, this week I encourage you to do exactly that, take this story and do nothing but good with it.

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