Sing Them Home: A Novel

Sing Them Home: A Novel

3.8 39
by Stephanie Kallos

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Sing Them Home is a moving portrait of three siblings who have lived in the shadow of unresolved grief since their mother’s disappearance when they were children. Everyone in Emlyn Springs knows the story of Hope Jones, the physician’s wife whose big dreams for their tiny town were lost along with her in the tornado of 1978. For Hope’s…  See more details below


Sing Them Home is a moving portrait of three siblings who have lived in the shadow of unresolved grief since their mother’s disappearance when they were children. Everyone in Emlyn Springs knows the story of Hope Jones, the physician’s wife whose big dreams for their tiny town were lost along with her in the tornado of 1978. For Hope’s three young children, the stability of life with their preoccupied father, and with Viney, their mother’s spitfire best friend, is no match for Hope’s absence. Larken, the eldest, is now an art history professor who seeks in food an answer to a less tangible hunger; Gaelan, the son, is a telegenic weatherman who devotes his life to predicting the unpredictable; and the youngest, Bonnie, is a self-proclaimed archivist who combs roadsides for clues to her mother’s legacy, and permission to move on. When they’re summoned home after their father’s death, each sibling is forced to revisit the childhood tragedy that has defined their lives. With breathtaking lyricism, wisdom, and humor, Kallos explores the consequences of protecting those we love. Sing Them Home is a magnificent tapestry of lives connected and undone by tragedy, lives poised—unbeknownst to the characters—for redemption.

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Editorial Reviews

Open Sing Them Home to the flyleaf and -- before you've read even a word of Stephanie Kallos's sweet and funny second novel -- you find a clue. It's dedicated to her father and mother, who died within a year of each other while the book was being written, and to a friend and mentor who took his life not five months later. How do you face such loss? Exactly the answer Kallos appears to be after.

Hope Jones was the doctor's wife in a small prairie town in Nebraska in 1978 when she vanished in a monster tornado. Her body was never found. To her three children, Larken, Gaelan, and Bonnie, their mother didn't die so much as she "went up": "For most of their lives, they have been waiting for their mother to come down. To do otherwise, they believe, would be a betrayal."

Other things caught up in that tornado came down, including the family's grand piano, a sled, and, miraculously, Bonnie herself. Then a toddler, she was found where the tornado's capricious winds dropped her, high above the ground in an uprooted tree. Life went on, but the loss of their mother, and of their mother's body, defined the Jones children. Adults when the story starts in 2003, they're still struggling with Hope's mystical, almost mythical demise.

Larken, an art history professor at a university in nearby Lincoln, is deliberately overweight -- fat, really -- and lives a solitary life. Gaelen has parlayed his buff good looks into a job as a TV weatherman. Bonnie, who still lives in Emlyn Springs, has become the town eccentric. She roves the roads on a bicycle, collecting bits of trash -- she calls them artifacts -- that she carefully assembles in albums in hope of finding something of her mother's. In the manner of modern families, the siblings live apart until a birthday, a holiday, or a family tragedy brings them together.

In Sing Them Home, it's the latter. Their father, Llwellyn, goes golfing in a thunderstorm and, club raised to take a swing, is electrocuted. Larken and Gaelen head home for the funeral. In that ceremony, a three-day singing ritual, and in the regrouping that follows, Kallos's book is born.

Kallos was a theater person, an actor and teacher, before she began to write. She started with short stories good enough to get published in literary journals, then made the leap -- if that's what you can call the eight years it took to write it -- to Broken for You, her first novel. In that 2004 book, she tells the tale of a reclusive woman hidden away in her Seattle mansion, where she tends and talks to the vast and valuable china collection left to her by her father. Add in a deadly brain tumor, a want ad for a roommate, and a spunky and equally reclusive woman in her 30s, and you'd still have trouble predicting just how and where this whimsical novel winds up. Now, in the dense tapestry of Sing Them Home, Kallos has landed on her feet again, dodging the dreaded sophomore jinx of the second novel. She's still poking at the open wounds of abandonment, loss, and grief, and yes, there's another strong dose of magic realism (the dead can speak, a pair of lovers conjures a snowstorm), but now there's also heft and an edge of darkness.

The characters aren't particularly likable. Bonnie's a crank and, much of the time, a trial. Larken's an intellectual snob and a secretive binge eater. There's a moment early on with Larken and a peanut butter cup, which she slips into her mouth and dismantles with her tongue, that is nothing short of sexual. The fact that this bit of release happens during a meeting with a student, who is unaware, gives the scene a real creepiness. Gaelen, outwardly the most normal of the three siblings, pursues a prolific and loveless love life that would make Hugh Hefner proud.

But Kallos, who loves her people, rides to the rescue, her language making a case for their foibles, persuading us -- please -- to give them a chance. Here's Gaelen, unable to respond as the girl he likes undresses for him, her garments falling like snow:

There is a weightless quality to falling snow, even in its multiple forms, the various ways it can come down. Many people find it entrancing; to them snowfall is magical. Such people do not associate meteorological events with the disappearance of a parent, and so perhaps understandably, given his family history, Gaelen does not prefer snow in this down-falling, vulnerable state…

Hope's children spend their adult lives in pursuit of answers about their mother and her vanishing act, but it's the readers who learn all about her. A series of diary entries, beginning with Hope as a college girl in love with Llwellyn Jones and continuing through her courtship and marriage, reveal a crippling series of secrets and betrayals. And while the chapters about the children and the small-town life of Emlyn Springs take place in the near-present day, the writing in those sections, lyrical as it is, filled with bits of magic and whimsy, feels old-fashioned. Hope's diary entries, by contrast, are bracing and vivid, the most modern and compelling voice in the book.

Unlike many short story writers who take a shot at the long form, Kallos writes uncommonly good novels. There's the nuance and close focus of the short story, where a plot hinges on a single detail, but there's also the sweep and wide horizon of a saga. Kallos may be a bit too fond of the happy ending, less god of her universe than fairy godmother, but in this rocky moment in our uncertain world, it's hard to find fault with that. --Veronique de Turenne

Veronique de Turenne is a Los Angeles–based journalist, essayist, and playwright. Her literary criticism appears on NPR and in major American newspapers. One of the highlights of her career was interviewing Vin Scully in his broadcast booth at Dodger Stadium, then receiving a handwritten thank-you note from him a few days later.

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Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
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Sing Them Home 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 39 reviews.
evsays More than 1 year ago
My husband and I read this book to each other on a recent trip while one of us was driving. We loved it and continued to talk about it after reading it. We have also given it as a gift.
Megan_Fisher More than 1 year ago
Stephanie Kallos's first book Broken For You is the reason I searched for her second novel's debut early on as I felt her first book's plot and integration of characters provided a wonderful read with a redemptive ending that most women (at least) crave and desire. As I began this book, I wondered if I would like her characters when she began in her Prologue and first chapter with some that were dead! I kept on reading and got hooked however, and even her use of the dead talking somehow fit more into the plot later on, given the youngest daughter Bonnie's particular early assimilation of life. Revealed in this second novel are three siblings, two sisters and a brother, who are part of a mid-Western dysfunctional family, each who end up with a redemptive ending in their own way.

I was impressed with how this author interweaved the mother's diary entries (over 17 years of time) with the present day of the characters' lives. Though hard to do, it worked for me, even though the diary notes at times were long and involved conversations and I wonder if any person would really write the dialog down like that. However, the diary entries gave a huge insight into Hope, the mother of these three children, and her motivations and her view of life's reality as she saw and experienced it, and thus it gave us insight also into her children and their subsequent acting out of their own lives.

I was fascinated with the fact that Ms Kallos wove this story out of a real part of her own history as the plot sounds so far-fetched. Also I was intrigued with the Welsh traditions of funerals which I assume are real as I think Ms. Kallos researched her material well on all fronts as expressed in her Acknowledgments in the end of the book. Part of me wanted to experience this myself as it must be a very unique cultural background that only the Welsh could claim. I would have loved to have heard the Welsh words and the singing harmony of the townspeople!

Since I feel all novels should offer a redemptive ending, I found this one satiated my own reader's palate. I ended up with a feel-good glow as the book's ending provided a double entendre of the book's title, "Sing Them Home."
jessie2 More than 1 year ago
This book was easy to read, but an interesting psychological portrait of how different people deal with tragic events, all wrapped up in a novel that reads like popular fiction. I loved all the characters, Viney was wonderful as were both the girls. Thouroughly enjoyed this novel that was funny and sad all at the same time.
Frisbeesage More than 1 year ago
Sing Them Home is a beautiful, generous story about family, community, love and grief. In 1978 a tornado sweeps through the town of Emlyn Springs, Nebraska taking Hope Jones with it. She is never found and this is the story of how her three children live with the grief of her mysterious disappearance. But this book is so much more then the basic plot. Stephanie Kallos has a magical way of weaving characters and setting with weather and atmosphere until it is a real jolt to wrench yourself from the pages and find you aren't actually in Emlyn Springs. Her characters become real people who you will worry over and laugh with even after you put the book down!
This is one of the best books I read in 2008 and will make a great Christmas gift.
lovemybookclub More than 1 year ago
Wonderful characters in a small town filled with quirky people who love and care for one another. I read all the time and I can't waste my time on poorly and hastily written books. Time was not wasted with this book. It is the kind of read that sticks with you, fills you with satisfaction yet leaves you wanting more. I am going to read S. Kallos first book and hope it is as good as this one. A wonderful book for a book club with lots of symbolism and great topics to discuss. Great book.
audybookworm More than 1 year ago
I read Broken for You and loved it! I could not wait to purchase the latest book. I just began reading and could not even get past 150 pages. Certain authors you can depend on such as Wally Lamb, Ms Kallos you cannot. Did she have a ghost writer?
donnareads911 More than 1 year ago
This book grabbed me from the first page. The characters are engaging, the story pulls you along at a perfect clip, and I hated the book to end. It has a bit of mystery, a bit of romance, and it's touching, without being sappy. Annnnd it's a great length. Don't you hate those "potato chip" books that take you, oh, about the time to eat a bag of chips and leaves you with "I gotta have another one" feeling? This one fills you up, only it takes more than a day. It's also a book about family, and all of our problems, (and don't we all have a few), and working through them in a richly embroidered story. A must read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A bit slow. I found most of the characters unlikable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Those who fell in love with Broken For You (and I rate it in my top 5 books of all time) could be disappointed in Sing Them Home. The quirky and compelling characters of her first book are replaced by characters in Sing Them Home who are merely irritating in their dysfunctional whininess. The pacing of their development also tends to increase their annoying qualities since none of the siblings seem to have any self-insight at all. One of Kallos's great strengths as a writer comes from her background in acting and stage settings--she provides the requisite detail of behaviors, surroundings, and "props" to fully realize her characters and bring them vividly to life. That strength was not as in evidence in Sing Them Home. The plot is sufficiently off-beat and dramatic enough to engender some interest, but again the pacing is too slow and by the time you have finished the book, you are simply relieved. For anyone who has lived through tornados, there is nothing implausible about the plot, although the fantasy elements clearly are not subject to the "plausibility" definition. Mostly, I was sad that the book did not fulfill my high expectations. I read close to 200 books a year and on the strength of my love for Broken for You, I would buy anything that Kallos wrote. I probably would not again buy multiple copies of her books as gifts until after I had read the book, just to be certain that it met my standards for recommending and giving it. So, while I would say it's worth reading, it's not in the same class as Broken for You. I'm hoping her next effort will be.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. There is a tenderness toward the characters that shows both their frailty and their strength. Funny, tender, sad yet hopeful, this is a great read!
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This is a book about ordinary people from a small town in Nebraska. While I love books about family life, this is a strange almost dysfunctional family. The loss of their mother when the children were small seems to have hindered their ability to have normal lives. The Welsh traditions of this small town are very interesting.
Pamagd More than 1 year ago
Unless you just honestly hate yourself or are stuck in a prison cell with nothing else to read I would give this one a pass. Of the half dozen plotlines that meander through the first 200 pages I was only interested in two. I read through the many, many, MANY descriptions of practically nothing to find a conclusion to those two plot lines and was disappointed in both.
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SheilaDeeth More than 1 year ago
Sing Them Home is a big book with 540 pages. It's a big story too, with travels that span the world, relationships that span societal mores, and families that span life and death. But it's centered in the tiny town of Emlyn Springs, Nebraska, and in the family of Hope Jones, who disappeared in a tornado long ago and never returned. It's a story, filled with time-spanning sense of place, about Hope's children who have each, in their own way, lost their place in the world. It's about the wind that tears things apart, and the way things come back together, not the same, but still as real and just as complete. And it's about the littlest sister, the one who maybe wasn't quite complete from the start, who somehow seems to give completeness to everyone else. The death of Hope's husband many years later brings the family back. They return to the town's deep Welsh traditions where the dead are "sung home," to the town's sweet expectations, even those that can't be expressed, and to each other. The wonderful stepmother deals with heartbreak and disillusion on her way to forgiveness. The self-centered brother learns to center himself on something other than image. The stubbornly separate sister finds acceptance. The lonely find love. The pages run the gamut of emotions, from Hope's diary of hope's retreat, to lost children, to Viney's very real bereavement, to the kindness and cruelties of strangers. All of it is so very real and absorbing that the book becomes hard to put down. Wrenched heartstrings remain somehow always sure that the tune will play sweetly again, as indeed, it does. The writing sings. And the characters finally, each on their own surprising path, all find their way home.
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