Summary and book reviews of Sing Them Home by Stephanie Kallos

Sing Them Home

By Stephanie Kallos

Sing Them Home
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2009,
    560 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2009,
    560 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Vy Armour

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About this Book

Book Summary

With her best-selling debut novel, Broken for You, Stephanie Kallos earned comparisons to John Irving, Anne Tyler, Margaret Atwood, and Carol Shields, establishing her as a writer of uncommon “wisdom and soulfulness” (Sue Monk Kidd).

Sing Them Home is a deeply moving portrait of three grown siblings who have lived in the shadow of unresolved grief since their mother’s mysterious disappearance when they were children. Everyone in Emlyn Springs, Nebraska, 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 distant, preoccupied father, and with Viney, their mother’s spitfire best friend, is no match for their mother’s absence. Larken, the eldest, is an art history professor who seeks in food an answer to a less tangible hunger; Gaelan, the only son, is a telegenic weatherman who devotes his life to predicting the unpredictable and whose profession, and all too much more, depend on his sculpted frame and ready smile; and Bonnie, the baby of the family is a self-proclaimed archivist who combs the roadsides for clues to her mother’s legacy, and permission to move on.

When, decades after their mother’s disappearance, they are summoned home after their father’s sudden death, they are forced to revisit the childhood tragedy at the center of their lives. With breathtaking lyricism, wisdom, and humor, Stephanie Kallos explores the consequences of protecting the ones we love.

Sing Them Home is a magnificent tapestry of lives connected and undone by tragedy, lives poised—unbeknownst to the characters themselves—for redemption.

Chapter 1
The Mayor Ignores the Rules

For someone born and bred right here in the rainwater basin of the central great plains, Llewellyn Jones— the mayor and presumptive leader of Emlyn Springs, Nebraska—is showing a sad lack of common sense. His ladyfriend and bedfellow for the past twenty-five years, Alvina Closs, is flummoxed.

“Can’t you wait an hour?” she is saying. “You can still get in nine holes—maybe even eighteen—after it blows over.”

“I’ve got a tee time reserved,” he answers. “I’m expected.”

“We don’t live in Miami!” Alvina counters, shrilly. “It’s not as if there’s a crowd of people waiting to play. Why can’t you wait?”

“I’m going now, Viney,” he says. Just like that. No explanation. No compromise.

“You and your goddamned golf.”

He gives her a level, noncommittal look. “I’ll be home by happy hour,” he ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Tornados frame this whirlwind of a book, those of 1978 and 2004 in Nebraska. How are these events both apocalyptic and miraculous? See pages 531-533 for a dizzying tornado experience.
  2. What does the title mean? How is the Welsh singing a lifeline for Emlyn Springs? Are music and tornados linked in some kind of magic realism? Look at pages 162-163: a whole town sings to a stranded child in a wind-carried, upside down cedar tree.
  3. After she is miraculously rescued, still on her bicycle seat, Bonnie believes she has seen her mother swirled into the atmosphere into the arms of an angel. "The event shaped Bonnie Jones to believe in the improbable, that's sure, and in magic" (p. 163). Is Bonnie's oblique ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

I am singing praises for Sing Them Home, a delightful read. It 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. It also has characters to cheer for in spite of all their foibles. Perhaps that is why it is so easy to like them.

Who could not sympathize immediately with three young children, ages 7-14, whose mother was swept away in a Nebraska tornado never to be found. Not a trace, not even of the wheelchair that encased her body ridden with multiple sclerosis. Sing Them Home could be a depressing story, but instead I found myself smiling and laughing quite a bit as Stephanie Kallos depicts, with humor and sensitivity, life in Emlyn Springs, Nebraska, a fictional town thirty miles from Lincoln.   (Reviewed by Vy Armour).

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Media Reviews
People - Michelle Green

With empathy and wit, Kallos weaves together the stories of the living and the dead, creating a world in which love trumps loss and faith can summon redemption. The result is a magical novel that even cynics will close with a smile (3 out of 4 stars)

Entertainment Weekly - Karen Valby

Fans of Ann Patchett and Haven Kimmel should dive onto the sofa one wintry weekend with Stephanie Kallos's wonderfully transportive second novel, Sing Them Home...[A] keenly empathetic description of life in ....Emlyn Springs, one of those all-too-rare small towns in literature, rich in personality but mercifully free of broad, condescending cliche....As the novel floats back and forth from past to present, Kallos patiently reveals the hurt and longing that's pounding beneath the surface...[and] the ending may leave you feeling so wistful for these strange, sad people that you find yourself fantasizing about a trip to Nebraska. Rated A-

Boston Globe - Diane White

Sing Them Home constantly surprises, changing voices, viewpoints, and tempos, mixing humor and pathos, and introducing a big cast of vividly portrayed characters, major and minor. Readers who admired Kallos's first novel, Broken for You, will likely embrace Sing Them Home, and it will embrace them in return. It's that sort of book.

Booklist

Sing Them Home ushers us into small-town life, with all its distinctive cultural nuances, eccentric personalities, and homegrown secrets. With the same beauty and lyricism of her first novel, Broken for You, Kallos stitches together a colorful patchwork of memories and images, creating a rich narrative fabric that develops and changes as it passes through each character's hands.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This novel will find a welcome audience in anyone who has experienced grief, struggled with family ties or, most importantly, appreciates blossoming talent.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Kallos doesn't rip her characters apart, just tenderly shows us their failings as they stumble, in a realistic and satisfying manner, toward better selves. Highly recommended.

Reader Reviews
Katherine Yuhas

Add This to Your Must Read List
I had such a wonderful time reading this book. It is a real treat to sink into the world of Emlyn Springs, Nebraska and the characters who live there. The story of the lives of the adult Jones children whose mother disappeared in a tornado many ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Gymanfa Ganu
In Sing Them Home, the town of Emlyn Springs celebrates an annual Gymanfa Ganu, also known as Cymanfa Ganu (pronounced cuh-MAN-va GA-nee), which is a Welsh festival of sacred hymns sung with four part harmony by a congregation, usually under the direction of a choral director.

The tradition grew out of the temperance movement in mid-nineteenth century Wales when choral societies were founded as one solution to the grave problem of drinking. Because of the unsanitary conditions in the rapidly-growing housing developments, water was unsafe to drink and beer (sterilized by the fermentation process) was ...

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