Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Group Review: Sing Them Home

Summary: 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.

Jenn's Review: This is not a book I would typically pick up on my own. I don't particularly care for family sagas, I have enough drama in my own family, thank you very much. That being said, although it took me a while to get into it, I didn't mind this one too much (I know, I know, not a ringing endorsement, but this isn't my genre).

The book starts with a discussion of the dead mothers and fathers of the world roaming the earth which I found odd and a little unnecessary. (More is not always better, sometimes it's just more.) The novel could have stood on it's own without this, in my opinion, and I felt that it detracted more than it enhanced.

Then Kallos allows us into the lives of each of the siblings, who are far from likable. Granted, the tragedy of their childhood shaped their lives, but their self absorption makes it hard to feel empathy for any of them. If it weren't for flashbacks courtesy of the pages of Hope's diary, I don't think I could have warmed up to any of them. However, seeing them through Hope's eyes, helps endear them to the reader slightly.

Still, I have issues with realism in the book. (Perhaps that's my trouble with contemporary fiction in general.) Bonnie riding around town finding legible bits of paper from diaries destroyed 26 years ago is too much of a stretch for me. And I find it hard to believe that someone wouldn't have tried to find her help... especially Gaelan's former high school sweetheart, the psychiatrist. The ending seemed all too abrupt and thoroughly neat for me too; I like things sussed out a little better than that.

Jenn’s Final Take: 3.5/5

Julie’s Review: I will admit when Lisa chose Sing Them Home as her book club pick, I was hesitant. It definitely wasn’t something that I would have picked up off the shelf and purchased, but isn’t that really the purpose of a book club, to force you to go outside your comfort zone? Sing Them Home started off strangely for me; I didn’t really care for the forefathers ghost theme and was scared that it was going to be a bit too mystical for me, but while it was woven throughout the book, it was in small enough doses that I did not feel that it overpowered the novel. Essentially, this is a family saga about how to learn from your past, heal from it and move on. I don’t even think that we fully understand how one event in our lives truly does shape our future self. That being said I do think that you can move on from that and to me that is what Sing Them Home is about.

Hope Jones was taken from her kids during a tornado in 1978 and now as adults, Larken, Gaelen and Bonnie all suffer the long lasting effects. What is interesting is how each of the children was affected by it. Larken substitutes her need for love by eating, Gaelen becomes obsessed with his physique and his bedroom prowess, and Bonnie seems to be stuck at the age of 10 where everything has a mystical, magical, and fantastical aspect to it. These are not easily likeable characters, each on of the children self-absorbed in their own way and yet none of them moves far away from Emlyn Springs. In fact, Bonnie still remains in town as their own “Flying Girl”. Giving an explanation to “Flying Girl” would be giving away a good tidbit in the story but I do believe that it ties directly into Bonnie’s personality. I couldn’t really identify with any of the characters in particular but I did enjoy the journey that each of them took us on. My least favorite was probably Bonnie and that was because I really just wanted her to grow up and act her age.

I did enjoy getting to read Hope’s diary and getting to know the younger versions of Larken, Gaelen and Bonnie. I think Larken was especially affected by her mother’s death in ways that she doesn’t even know or understand. I do agree with Jenn that these characters were self-absorbed but I think it was a coping mechanism. We did see each of them grow by the end of the book and to me that is what matters. One passage in the book really spoke to me:

“There’s suddenly this compulsion-not just to be a “good” mother,
but to be the “best” mother. No one expects fathers to be perfect. Fathers
are not bombarded with images of themselves, serenely cradling a newborn,
lounging about, immaculately and stylishly clad with their equally pristine
toddler” ~page 210

This is so true, even today. We see it on tv shows, movies and probably in our daily lives as mothers. There are always those moms that you perceive to be perfect and have it together. Its human nature to be competitive but that kind of stuff will drive you mad. I found it interesting that some things really don’t change decade to decade.

There are a couple twists in the book that I didn’t see coming and one that left me wanting more of a reason for the character thinking that way and we never went back to it during the novel. What I truly enjoyed about the book, though, are the Welsh traditions and culture. To me these were an integral part of the novel and whom the characters were.

Overall, I truly enjoyed this novel and more than likely will be purchasing Ms. Kallos’ book Broken for You when I am done with my very big “To Be Read” pile.

Julie’s Final Take: 4.5/5

Lisa's Review:

I can’t even tell you the reasoning behind my picking Sing Them Home as our book club pick, but it’s getting pretty obvious that I am easily swayed by well reviewed books. Now I didn’t really love this book and normally that wouldn’t be a problem, but for some reason I can’t really pinpoint my issue. I join my friends in saying that the beginning was a bit strange and certainly wasn’t necessary to the story, even though the author did make an effort to tie things together in the end.

Ultimately, this one gets an “eh” from me. I was certainly expecting more. I kept waiting for something to happen and though something did happen, it wasn’t powerful enough and I was still thinking “so what”. I get the feeling I was supposed to be moved to tears, but maybe I’m just too far gone on the cynicism scale. There was some unevenness to the plot, some things dragged out and some things just happened. More than once I found myself inferring that a certain event had occurred. Of course, I don’t need everything spelled out, but I don’t want to guess either. Strangely though, I still found myself compelled to read, this very long book (543 pages!). Something kept drawing me back - Kallos’ writing style I suppose. There’s a certain poetry to the prose and I particularly enjoyed reading Hope’s diary entries.

As much I want to wholeheartedly recommend this book, I can’t quite work up all of the required enthusiasm, so read at your own risk.

Lisa’s Final Take: 3.25/5

*Did you read it? Feel free to join the discussion by adding a comment. Let's get a dialogue going!


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