Tornado season. We see the devastation and heartache on the nightly news to communities, homes and people. Some are fortunate to survive, yet their lives are changed forever. “Sing Them Home,” by Stephanie Kallos, is the story of one family’s loss.
Named one of Entertainment Weekly’s Top 10 books of 2009, this story is timeless. We meet the Jones family many years after they lose their mother in a tornado. Hope Jones’ life and dreams for her three children were swept away when she disappeared in a 1978 tornado. “Sing Them Home” (560-page paperback) has what any good musical and literary composition should have — a unique melody with harmony, tempo, lyrical style, rhythm, lulls and crescendos building to a stunning climax.
Hope Jones disappears without a trace — not even the wheelchair which encased her multiple sclerosis body is found. She leaves behind three children ages 7-14. Although the premise is indeed tragic, author Kallos depicts with sensitivity and often humor life in Emyln Springs, a fictional town 30 miles from Lincoln, Neb.
When the now adult children reconvene at their father’s funeral, they reminisce and re-examine their lives. An oft-used scenario in literature, but there is nothing ordinary about this funeral or these children. The story line is as unique as the characters.
What comes to mind is the famous line from Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This family’s way could be called “emptiness” as the children spend their lives trying to fill the hole left by their mother’s abrupt disappearance.
Larken, the oldest daughter, is an art history professor who tries to fill her emptiness with chocolate — actually food of all types.
Gaelan, the handsome son, finds his solace in conquests of beautiful women, resulting in shallow relationships.
Common themes, but Kallos presents them in interesting ways.
For example, Galean discovers that women cannot resist falling into his bed when he tells them about the hand-made quilt that was his mother’s.
The youngest, Bonnie, I found the most unique. She has never left home and deals with her loss by actively searching for any piece of her mother lost in the storm.
For decades she takes a daily bike ride looking for artifacts, pieces of paper, scraps, objects — anything that might lead to clues of where her mother may have landed. Bonnie’s earnest attempts and child-like belief that she will find her mother endear her to us.
Although now gone, the mother is very much alive to the reader through her diary entries, which tell how she fell in love with a young medical student who she married, the birth of each child, and struggles with her disease, MS.
The wisdom of the author shines through this character and causes us to ponder our own morality while we are at the same time smiling about some of the children’s antics.
Another melodic refrain is the voice of Viney, the step-mother. Not the wicked kind, but one the children love. Viney, in an innocent search of her own, discovers some startling facts about the father after his death. Turns out the well-loved small town physician has a few skeletons in his closet.
Add to this composition the colorful characters who live in Emyln Springs, a Welsh community where they still practice century-old customs, rituals and burials.
So skillfully does Kallos weave this rich Midwest tapestry, the reader flows effortlessly through the minds of the characters, past and present.
As the struggles of the children and Viney come to a climax at the town’s annual celebration of Fancy Egg Days, I found myself reading quickly to the end of the book to find the answers of the past. It was a bittersweet rush because the ending meant saying good-bye to some wonderful characters — as all good books do.
If you like Kallos’ writing, you’ll probably enjoy her first book, “Broken for You,” which was a Quill Book Award Finalist for Debut Author of the Year (2004).
Side note: Three killer tornadoes in Nebraska occurred in 1913 on Easter Sunday, killing 133 people in three separate towns.
• Former bookstore owner Vy Armour has been a resident of Ahwatukee Foothills for more than 20 years. She is an adjunct instructor in communications at the University of Phoenix and reviews books on her blog, http://serendipity-reflections.blogspot.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.