Sing Them Home by Stephanie Kallos

A friend of mine who lives in Iowa told me that this novel is the selection for 2011’s All Iowa Reads, which is similar to Greensboro’s “One City One Book,” but it is state-wide.  While one criterion for All Iowa Reads selections is that they “raise universal social issues,” I consider Sing Them Home to deal more with personal and family concerns than with social issues.  Probably some of the reasons for this book’s selection were the central role of tornadoes, apparently common in Iowa, in the plot, and its depiction of a small midwestern town.

Three siblings, Larken, Gaelan, and Bonnie Jones, meet for the funeral of their father.  Years before, a tornado carried away Bonnie, who was then a child, as well as the mother of the family, Hope Jones. Hope was never seen again, alive or dead, but Bonnie landed in a tree and survived to become known in local legend as the Flying Girl.  All three children have suffered from the loss of their mother.  Larken seeks relief in overeating and Gaelan in superficial affairs with one woman after another.  Bonnie spends much of her time looking for artifacts of the tornado, such as scraps of torn grocery lists.  Her injuries in the tornado make it unlikely that she can ever have children.  The well-written tale proceeds through the experiences of the three adult children and through quotations from Hope’s diary, exploring her courtship and marriage, her life as a mother, and the days preceding the tornado.  The novel’s themes include illness, death, grief, and the children’s struggles towards fulfilling lives.  The customs of the small community, most of whose inhabitants are Welsh, provide an interesting and unusual background for the events.

Kallos’ affection for her quirky and imperfect characters reminds me a bit of Anne Tyler’s books.

(Helen Snow, Information Services)

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