Today We Go Home: Book summary and reviews of Today We Go Home by Kelli Estes

Today We Go Home

A Novel

by Kelli Estes

Today We Go Home by Kelli Estes X
Today We Go Home by Kelli Estes
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  • Published in USA  Sep 2019
    416 pages
    Genre: Historical Fiction

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Book Summary

"Today We Go Home shines an illuminating light on history and the female soldiers who have served this country from the Civil War to Afghanistan today. Kelli Estes passionately brings the past to life, interweaving the story of two women from different centuries whose journey towards hope is timeless. " - Gwendolyn Womack, USA Today bestselling author of The Fortune Teller and The Time Collector

Seattle, Washington
Larkin Bennett has always known her place, whether it's surrounded by her loving family in the lush greenery of the Pacific Northwest or conducting a dusty patrol in Afghanistan. But all of that changed the day tragedy struck her unit and took away everything she held dear. Soon after, Larkin discovers an unexpected treasure―the diary of Emily Wilson, a young woman who disguised herself as a man to fight for the Union in the Civil War. As Larkin struggles to heal, she finds herself drawn deeply into Emily's life and the secrets she kept.

Indiana, 1861
The only thing more dangerous to Emily Wilson than a rebel soldier is the risk of her own comrades in the Union Army discovering her secret. But in the minds of her fellow soldiers, if it dresses like a man, swears like a man, and shoots like a man, it must be a man. As the war marches on and takes its terrible toll, Emily begins to question everything she thought she was fighting for.

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. A major theme of the story explores the female soldier's experience. Did any of these women's experiences surprise you? If you have military experience, what are some challenges, prejudices, abuses, etc. that you experienced as a female military member or witnessed by other women in the military?
  2. Emily enlisted so she could be with her brother as well as for the adventure. Willie enlisted as a means of financial support. Neither were sexually or romantically motivated, yet women discovered in Union or Confederate ranks were usually accused of such. Why do you think this was? Has this changed in society and/ or the military today?
  3. Emily lived in a state that declared it illegal for black people to live, work, or even visit. (Article 13 of Indiana's 1851 Constitution: "No negro or mulatto shall come into or settle in the State, after the adoption of this Constitution.") Do you think this helped or hindered her understanding of slavery and the growth of her abolitionist beliefs? Do you see any correlation between this lack of exposure to people of a different race and how we still experience racism today?
  4. Opening all military jobs to women in recent years has started the debate on whether women should be included in any future drafts/conscriptions. What do you think?
  5. The epigraph at the beginning of the book reads "Home isn't where our house is, but wherever we are understood." Emily's home was in Indiana, yet it stopped being the place where people truly knew her. Larkin grew up in Seattle but chose to go home to her grandmother's house in Woodinville because that's where she'd feel best loved. What does home mean to you? Where is your "home"? Why?
  6. Through most of the story, Emily's family is made up of her brother and Willie. For Larkin, it is her grandmother and cousins. Both women have other family members, but they feel emotionally disconnected from them. Who do you consider your true family, no matter if they are actual family? What is it about these people that you love so much?
  7. There are people still today who don't believe the Civil War was about slavery. What do you think, and why?
  8. Were you surprised to learn that so many women disguised themselves as men to fight in the Civil War? Had you heard about any before reading this book? Did you look up any online while reading? Share what you know or learned with the group.
  9. Was it a surprise to you to learn that black men were not allowed to join the Union army until 1863? That they were segregated from white soldiers and led exclusively by white officers? That they were not paid the same wages as white soldiers until June 1864? That, if caught by Confederate forces, they were usually brutally killed and never taken prisoner? Do you think the war might have ended sooner if any of these facts were different?
  10. PTSD, while certainly discussed in relation to veterans, can also arise in people who have never served in the military. Even children can suffer from PTSD. Some known causes are sexual, physical, or emotional abuse; a natural disaster; a car accident; a long- term illness; etc. Do you have personal experience with PTSD (yourself or a loved one) that you can share with the group?
  11. Did the information in the story about the bacha posh of Afghanistan surprise you? Are there any similar practices in your culture where a female takes on the appearance and social expectations of a male? Why is the practice accepted in some cultures and not in others? Is it different if the decision is that of the child rather than the parents?
  12. Emily's diary directly influenced Sarah's decision to join the military. Imagine one of your ancestors left a diary detailing his or her experiences during an interesting time in history. What would you do with that information? Share with the group what you already know about your ancestor and the time he or she lived. How might learning more about this ancestor's experiences through a diary affect you?
  13. After Emily's story ends, her granddaughter makes an entry in her diary that gives some clues to what happened to Emily and the children. What do you think their lives were like living on the prairie? What, especially, do you think life was like for Gabriel as a cattle rancher when there were likely very few others who looked like him?
  14. Do you now think differently about women serving in the military? What are some actions you can take to support female veterans and show your appreciation for their service?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Sourcebooks. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

You can see the full discussion here. This discussion will contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about Today We Go Home:

Are there similar practices to the bacha posh in your culture? Why is the practice accepted in some cultures and not in others? Is it different if the decision is that of the child rather than the parents?
For anyone interested in The Underground Girls of Kabul - more information at [link]https://www.bookbrowse.com/reviews/index.cfm/book_number/3123/the-underground-girls-of-kabul[/link] and in our 2015 discussion of the book: [link]https://www.... - davinamw

Did any of the information about black men serving in the Union army surprise you?
There is a very good book out recently about a black woman masquerading as a soldier in a black unit during the Civil War, called Daughter of a daughter of a Queen, by Sarah Bird. It is fiction, but based on fact, so it really sets the stage for ... - kkb

Did any of these women's experiences surprise you? If you are a woman with military experience, or have a family member who is in the military, have you (or they) experienced or witnessed challenges, prejudices or abuses?
I have a son in the military, and when he got deployed, we met some of the soldiers he worked with, and a large number of them were women. I plan on talking to him about how he felt the women were treated both stateside and abroad. I was surprised ... - kkb

Do you have personal experience with PTSD (yourself or a loved one)?
Read about it, heard about it, seen it....have not experienced it directly. The real emotional toll of war. Can try to understand it. Goes all the way back to all wars, different names, but only recognized and named PTSD fairly recently. Now studied ... - joang

Had you heard about women disguising themselves as men to fight in the Civil War? Do you know of any real-life examples?
My awareness has has been awakened. Listening to Archie Fisher he started singing Jackaro. A song about a woman who dressed as a man to fight in a war with her beau. Ok maybe that is where the romantic idea shows up. A different question. This ... - tracyb

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Two women, separated by a century and a half, survive life in the United States military in Estes' suspenseful, neatly structured second novel...brings the Civil War era to life and effectively links it to contemporary times." - Kirkus Reviews

"Pairing the dual narratives of Larkin and Emily, Estes relates the hardships faced by women who serve in the military...Based on the real-life stories of women who served, this is an excellent read and highly recommended." - Booklist

"Illuminating, sympathetic and deeply human, Today We Go Home shines a much-needed light on the brave, bold women of all eras whose military service puts even more than their lives on the line." - Greer Macallister, author of Woman 99 and The Magician's Lie

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Reader Reviews

Write your own review

Carolt

Oh, my
I read far too many books in search of one as satisfying as this one. I wish I'd written it; imagine the fun in the research.

KFox

This book honors women who serve
I gained so much insight reading Today we go Home.

The story of two women soldiers, Emily Wilson, who, during the Civil War, fought with the Union Army disguised as a man and Larkin Bennett, a US Army soldier who was deployed to Afghanistan twice.

In the present-day, Larkin is trying to cope with PTSD, grief and guilt over the death of her best friend Sarah. We travel to the past as Larkin reads the Civil War journal kept by Emily chronicling her enlistment in Indiana's 9th Infantry as a male Union soldier.

I loved the historical detail and accounting of how women had disguised themselves as men to enlist in the service during the civil war. I also felt the flow between the two women in dual time frames was very easy to follow.
The stories helped me to understand the parallel struggles of female soldiers in the past and female soldiers from our own time in history. Also, it was important to be reminded of the fact that women who serve also suffer from PTSD.

I thought there were some inconsistencies in the language used during the Civil War period, but that did not affect my enjoyment of the book

Thank you to BookBrowse and Sourcebooks Landmark for this ARC.

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Author Information

Kelli Estes Author Biography

Photo: Chad Estes

Kelli Estes lived in the deserts of eastern Washington state and Arizona before settling in the Seattle area, which she loves so much she plans to forever live near the water. She's passionate about stories that help us see how the past shaped who we are today, and is still very relevant, and how we all have more in common than not. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family. Her first novel, The Girl Who Wrote in Silk, was a USA Today bestseller. Today We Go Home is her second novel.

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Link to Kelli Estes's Website

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