Sing Them Home

Sing Them Home

Sing Them Home is simply wonderful. It’s a welcome tonic to those of us who look back with great longing to Anne Tyler’s early novels. . . . that is, those of us hungry for books with quirky, flawed, yet realistic and beloved characters who leap off the page into our arms and refuse to leave. I didn’t want Sing Them Home ever to end.” -Nancy Pearl, KUOW/NPR online

praise for Sing Them Home

Praise for Sing Them Home

January 2009 Indie Next List, Shelf Awareness Pick of the Year
Pacific Northwest Independent Booksellers Bestseller List (#14 12/14/2008)
A Heartland Independent Bestseller 2008

A Canadian Bestseller (Globe and Mail #10 debut)

“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 cliché. . . . 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.” -Karen Valby, Entertainment Weekly (A-)

“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.” -Michelle Green, People (3½ out of 4 stars)

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.» -Diane White, Boston Globe

Sing Them Home is simply wonderful. It’s a welcome tonic to those of us who look back with great longing to Anne Tyler’s early novels. . . . that is, those of us hungry for books with quirky, flawed, yet realistic and beloved characters who leap off the page into our arms and refuse to leave. I didn’t want Sing Them Home ever to end.” -Nancy Pearl, KUOW/NPR online

“[Sing Them Home] is a book written for cold winter nights by the fire. . . . Kallos excels at teasing out the emotional damage wrought by [the Jones siblings’] absent mother and remote father. . . . [She] is working in a vast landscape here, both emotional and physical [and] she handles it all with grace, giving each character and plotline a satisfying finish, like chords resolving themselves.” -Shawna Seed, The Dallas Morning News

“[Sing Them Home] is a welcome reminder that good contemporary writing can still move slowly. . . . The reader is left with a feeling that the author, the story and the characters have somehow been uncommonly generous in their presentation. . . . Death, loss and remembering are integral parts of the story, and the language of the book can be, at times, wonderfully elegiac and ruminative. . . . [Kallos’s] own genuine emotion infuses and drives the story.” -Holly Silva, St. Louis Dispatch

“Not since the Wizard of Oz has a tornado been used to such potent literary effect. . . . Dorothy may have thought that there’s no place like home, but what happens when there’s no house left at the old address, and no real parent figure to go home to? The Jones siblings take a further step down the road to enlightenment: They learn that home is where the heart is. . . . Kallos performs ample wizardry in blending both tears and quirky humor in this tale of lost souls.» -Barbara Lloyd McMichael, Seattle Times

“Deeply satisfying . . . Kallos’s skillful depiction of grief, love, and healing contains moments of lyrical transcendence, which is only fitting in a novel about the power of song.” -Pat MacEnulty, Charlotte Observer

“A beautiful book narrated in a style that flirts with magical realism . . . [Sing Them Home is] a multidimensional, complex, and fascinating tale. . . . An ambitious novel, full of vivid characters and intriguing secrets. And the setting is unforgettable. . . . Kallos deftly slips between dream and reality, between the watchful dead and those they've left behind. It's an imaginative and absorbing novel.” -Ashley Simpson Shires, The Rocky Mountain News

“Beneath its glinting surface, Kallos’s heartland is alive with secrets and complexities. . . . [Kallos] strikes the right chord, finding a balance between idealization and scorn in [her] treatment of small-town America. . . . At its core, Sing Them Home is a classic story of finding redemption by returning home.” —Alexis Nelson, The Oregonian

“Kallos has a remarkable vocabulary and a gift of defining things and situations efficiently, often in very few words. . . . We learn to love [the Jones siblings] and to hope that they stumble toward their better selves and receive redemption. I read the closing pages twice and closed the book with a satisfied smile. She sang them home.” -Phil Heckman, the Lincoln Journal Star

“Stephanie Kallos’s second novel is a complex, haunting story of a family shaped by tragedy. . . . Kallos nimbly moves from character to character, filling in the past and hinting at what’s to come without being obvious or overbearing. Her beautifully written story weaves together lives, places and emotions, and resonates with tiny details that only later show their significance.” -Lisa McLendon, The Wichita Eagle

“A compelling portrait of three adult siblings struggling to come to terms with their father’s sudden death. . . . Kallos writes with sympathetic insight into the quirks of each of the survivors, bringing her readers a family saga tinged with mysticism, humor and pathos, and peopled with characters not soon forgotten.” —Deborah Donovan, Bookpage

“In Sing Them Home . . . [Kallos] returns to her themes of family conflict, long-held secrets, and the changes wrought by death, while broadening her scope to explore these themes in the context of a truly unique fictional town, Emlyn Springs, Nebraska. . . . Sing Them Home is a sensitive, deeply perceptive portrayal of a family in transition. Kallos has a keenly observant eye, which she uses to comment obliquely on academia, celebrity culture, and small-town politics. She also seems to have a genuine affection for and understanding of small towns like Emlyn Springs. . . . Kallos serves as a wry but knowledgeable tour guide to the world she has created. By the last page, readers will feel like they've become not only honorary members of the Jones family but also vital members of the Emlyn Springs community.” —Norah Piehl, BOOKREPORTER.com

“In the dense tapestry of Sing Them Home, Kallos has landed on her feet . . . 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, but now there’s also heft and an edge of darkness. . . . 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 . . . 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, bn.com

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.” —Heather Paulson, Booklist

“[An] engaging family saga.»—John Marshall, The Seattle-Post Intelligencer

“[A] fresh, invigorating novel . . . Kallos tenderly shows us [her characters;] failings as they stumble, in a realistic and satisfying manner, toward better selves. Highly recommended.”—Library Journal (starred review)

“Kallos's enthralling second novel takes the reader by storm. . . . [Sing Them Home] will find a welcome audience in anyone who has experienced grief, struggled with family ties or, most importantly, appreciates blossoming talent.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Sing Them Home is delightful. The characters are fascinating. . . . It is deeply moving and funny.” —Vicki Rock, Daily American

“Brilliant . . . A richly textured, deeply satisfying, and enduring read—a whirlwind of aching sadness, secret histories, sex that’s by turns empty and angry and sloppy and transformative, moments of great sweetness and joy that are never saccharine, and ultimately, resolution and redemption that are well-earned and in no way false or forced. Before Sing Them Home, Kallos was already, arguably, the best first-novelist of the Aughts; now it’s abundantly clear that she’s becoming quite a bit more than that.” —Stephan Nathans-Kelly, First Look Books blog

“The character development is extraordinary. . . . Everything from a tractor-pull to an electric Celtic band to a beauty pageant is one the bill as Kallos, with a masterstroke, launches a cataclysm—a fateful event extolling all the flavors of small-town living, and heralding the roles of heritage and family in keeping civilizations functional and, of course, civilized.” —Mary McWay Seaman, Celtic Connection


Bookseller Praise for Sing Them Home

“This novel about three siblings and the loss of their mother in a tornado twenty-five years ago is a sublime exploration of family ties and secrets. Sing Them Home is a book you'll never want to finish.” —Marilyn Dahl, Shelf-Awareness "Pick of the Year"

“Filled with energy, sadness, guilt, but mostly importantly, love . . . Never have I read more perfect depictions of characters and their personal quirks and attributes—spot-on every time, often wickedly, devastatingly funny, outrageous, but always stopping short of overboard.” —Secret Garden Books

“One more bit of applause for Stephanie Kallos and her new book Sing Them Home. I saved reading [this novel] until the latter part of the summer and am so glad that I did. I saved the best for last. Stephanie Kallos has given us a bushel basket of wonderful characters to worry about, love and cheer on. Quirkiness abounds as does constancy and kindness. Tornados, lightning bolts, and perfect pitch in one book just cannot be ignored! Who knew the Welsh loved singing so much? I certainly do now. I am crazy about this book and will have a wonderful time selling it.” —Julie Norcross, Mclean and Eakin Booksellers

“Like Hope, swept away in the 1978 Nebraska tornado that left her three children motherless, I was transported by Stephanie Kallos’s second novel. As adults the Jones children choose paths impacted by their unique childhood, not acknowledging the unresolved pain of their mother’s disappearance yet unable to leave the area and the memories. Quirky, humorous, poignant--all the attributes of Broken For You are here, in satisfying, page-turning prose.” —Cheryl McKeon, Third Place Books (Lake Forest Park, WA)

“Stephanie Kallos introduces us to a family that defines the heartland of America. In the small town of Emlyn Springs, Nebraska the restless spirit of Hope Jones still lingers in the lives of her three grown children. With their mother lost to a tornado, Larken, Gaelan, and Bonnie Jones have scattered across the land. Years later, the death of their father brings the trio back home. Old feelings, mysteries and secrets hang in the air, and there is a sense of electricity in every chapter. Storms are often powerful, but in the wake of fierce and dramatic experiences come miracles of life and redemption. Sing Them Home is gloriously uplifting.” —Geoffrey Jennings, Rainy Day Books (Fairway, KS)

Sing Them Home has such a wonderful modern fairy tale feel to it, but instead of evil step-mothers and ogres and princesses we get very real people (an overweight academic, sneaking food and disguising her torso; an exercise-addicted weatherman unable to move on from his adolescent romance; and a young woman, ever searching for a past she can't reclaim), all dealing with the mysterious disappearance of their mother, Hope Jones, who was swept up in a tornado and never seen again. It is Hope's voice, heard through her journals, that alternates with the struggles of her adult children, and weaves a story both magical and brutally realistic. I loved Viney, and the rituals of the small town, and even the girl and bicycle in the tree and the piano discovered by the blind man...nothing seemed too much. I don't like to compare books with other books...but titles like Lovely Bones and Secret Life of Bees do come to mind. This is a wonderful book, and I know so many readers who will love it.” —Leslie Reiner, Inkwood Books (Tampa, FL)

“Stephanie Kallos has a rare gift for identifying that which is common to us all and portraying it in ways which prove each of us special and unique. Her characters are vividly human, flawed and unpredictable at the same time that they're mercurial, lovable and familiar. Her setting is perhaps foreign, but somehow has the ring of home. Her story is at once quixotic and wholly believable. Sing Them Home will be an easy handsell.” —Jill Miner, Saturn Booksellers (Gaylord, MI)

Sing Them Home is a powerful story of loss, hope, faith, redemption and love, all the pieces falling magically into place. I fell in love with her writing all over again.” —Patti Morrison, Mount Pleasant Barnes & Noble (Mt. Pleasant, SC)

“How could Stephanie Kallos follow up such a brilliant debut novel, Broken for You, with a new masterfully crafted family saga, Sing Them Home? Each character has his or her own idiosyncratic approach to life and particular vulnerability. I thought about them while walking to work, I worried about them while eating my lunch; just before I went to bed I was kept awake problem solving because I cared so very deeply about them. By the end of this novel, I felt a part of the community, wishing I were singing them home.” -Elizabethe G. Plante, Water Street Bookstore, Inc. (Exeter, NH)

“I have goosebumps. Yes, I have goosebumps just thinking of how much I loved Sing Them Home. I can say with absolute certainty that Sing Them Home is the best book of 2009---maybe of the decade. Stephanie Kallos is an original, brilliant storyteller of the highest ranking and I am in awe of her talent. Watch out Tyler, Irving and Russo, 'cause the competiton has arrived. More, please!” —Sally Brewster, Park Road Books, (Charlotte, NC)

reader's guide : Sing Them Home

Guide by Barbara Putnam

  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 angle on life a curse or a gift for her?
  4. “It’s grotesque, Hope. . . . It’s part Irish wake, part Jerusalem wailing wall, and entirely morbid» (p. 131). Is Llewellyn’s view of “singing them home” accurate? “In Emlyn Springs, no one is said to be truly dead until they’ve been sung to in this manner” (p. 139), in chorus, in shifts, for seventy-two hours. Is this a stunningly appropriate ceremony for the passing of a human life?
  5. What kind of person is Llewellyn Jones? How soon does Hope see their marriage as a mismatch? Do we credit her early opinion that he was closed and incommunicative? (Does he seem to be the same person with Viney?) How is he as a father? What does Hope see as his treacheries? How much does she care about his infidelity? How do Dr. Jones’s medical ethics come into question?
  6. Another natural disaster is the lightning bolt that strikes Llewellyn down. Do you accept Viney’s theory that he was complicit in his own death? That he was bringing a judgment on himself? “He wanted to die. He was not hers. They never really belonged to each other” (p. 72). Yet the children assure Viney that their father and she had made a marriage together.
  7. What are some of the interpolated stories that might at first seem diversions but actually give insight into central concerns of the book?
  8. Both Gaelan and Larken achieve success in their careers. How do both suffer humiliation and debacle?
  9. What can we say about the nature of friendship in the book? Hope and Viney? Larken and Jon and Esme? Bonnie and Blind Tom? Others? What is suggested about relationships that begin in friendship and end in romance?
  10. How do hate and love coexist in friendship, love affairs, and marriage in this book?
  11. Were you surprised by the Hope that emerged in her diary? Does this Hope seem different from what you expected? Does she continue to reveal new facets as the story goes on? Does this repeated device of the diary bring the past to life again? “I have the disease to thank for this clearsightedness” (p. 500).
  12. How much do the characters know about each other? Larken’s secret vices must be obvious from her shape, but can anyone in her department or family understand the magnitude of her addiction? Gaelan, too, displays outwardly his workout obsession, but who really assesses his promiscuity before he is investigated? Does Bethan take his measure? How does the quilt work both for and against him?
  13. “Unique to midwesterners, Larken has observed over the years, is an uncanny ability to make a statement of absolution insinuate blame and incite guilt” (p. 112). Is it unique to midwesterners? (Some who read Joy Luck Club thought, yes, it’s Chinese mothers, but also Texas mothers, Jewish mothers, Italian mothers, etc.). Here it’s Viney, with all her virtues, turning the screw.
  14. “Hope makes a few quick notes in her diary, characterizing her children: Larken: Heavy, judgmental, fraudulent, afraid. Gaelan: Closed, disconnected, libidinous, un-self-aware. Bonnie: Imprisoned, silent, obsessed. Liars, all of them. And so humorless!” (p. 68). Are these evaluations just?
  15. Why do we care about these people? What is it that makes us curious about their motives and their fates? As neurotic and demon-driven as the three siblings are, how are they also sublimely human and happily inconsistent? Although they are unlikely heroic material, each has moments of real contribution to other people. Give examples.
  16. Some of the most dazzling writing in Sing Them Home shows us the pathological addictions of Gaelan and Larken. Find examples of compelling portraits of a weight-lifting serial seducer and a frantic compulsive eater. Is there hope at the end for the three driven characters, Larken, Gaelan, and Bonnie? Any sense of liberation from their demons?
  17. “The witch remains firmly affixed to her seat, feigning frailty and trying to simulate a compassionate expression. She must be ninety if she’s a day, Larken reflects. Why do the mean ones always live the longest? ‘Hello, Miss Axthelm’” (p. 113). Where else does Kallos give us this kind of refreshing malice?
  18. “Even Blind Tom knows that his eccentricities put him at the fringes of normalcy. How lucky that he landed here, in this small, benevolent, provincial place insulated by geography and human will, where such eccentricities are more than accepted: They are ignored” (p. 332). Describe Emlyn Springs. In some small towns, we recognize people from afar by their walk or the pet on a leash or a favorite baseball cap. In this Nebraska town, people are identified by the quality of their voices, their singing parts, bass, alto, tenor, soprano. Does it seem a protective atmosphere or a claustrophobic one? “There’s a special kind of pretending that goes on in small towns. It involves neither willful ignorance nor blindness. It is the opposite of gossip: a pretense of not knowing” (p. 408).
  19. “The gift of bones is a profound comfort to the living—little else satisfies . . . Their mother went up. She never came down” (p. 3). Does this explain why Larken feels more gratitude than grief when she views her father’s body? How was Viney’s grief about her dead son protracted (some bones and teeth) and yet still somehow better than the anguish of mothers of MIA soldiers in Vietnam?
  20. There are numerous personal symbols in the novel, e.g. Larken studies the symbols of the Merode; Gaelan uses symbols in his forecasting; Bethan refers to the symbolism of the Welsh love spoon she gives Gaelan. What purpose do symbols serve in the lives of these characters? Do you have any personal symbols in your own life?
  21. How is the image of the Merode used as a template throughout the book? Larken talks about weaving the stories of the six characters in the Merode: how does this apply to Larken’s personal life? What roles does each character take on at various times in the book? (i.e. Who plays the Gatekeeper? The Virgin? etc.) Are there any images in the novel that reflect particular aspects of the Merode painting?
  22. How do signs, whether literal or metaphorical, influence the lives of the main characters, particularly Bonnie and Larken? Are you a person who looks for signs when making significant decisions? Do you believe in such things? What “signs” have you encountered in your own life?
  23. How does the idea of sight factor into the novel? In what way do unseen elements of the story affect observable events and actions? Name some examples of how characters view the past, present, and future, and what serves to hinder some from seeing what’s right in front of them.

Suggestions for Further Reading:

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion; Passing for Thin: Losing Half My Weight and Finding My Self by Frances Kuffel; Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss by Hope Edelman; The Face of a Naked Lady: An Omaha Family Mystery by Michael Rips; Terra Infirma: A Memoir of My Mother’s Life in Mine by Rodger Kamenetz; A World Turned Over: A Killer Tornado and the Lives It Changed Forever by Lorian Hemingway; The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold; Ironweed by William Kennedy; How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn; The Corn Is Green by Emlyn Williams; The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin; Winter Morning Walks: 100 Postcards to Jim Harrison by Ted Kooser; A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

where to buy Sing Them Home

Barnes & Noble

IndieBound