I’ve been staring at a blank word document for a while now trying to find the words to properly describe how I feel after reading Caren J. Werlinger’s newest novel, Turning for Home. As the appropriate response continues to elude me, I find myself thinking back to the first time I watched Howard Zieff’s My Girl, back in 2002. Those of you reading this now who have seen it and survived to cry another day likely understand what I mean when I say that My Girl left a very real scar on my young heart. It’s been quite a few years since that day and no film or novel has ever come close to moving me quite the same way…until now.
I will not sugarcoat this. Turning for Home is a painful read. My heart ached from the first page through until the very last, and I was crying so hard by the end that my cat actually put her face on my face to make sure her person wasn’t broken. Now, I may be easily emotional by nature but that doesn’t mean for a second that this novel wasn’t worthy of each and every tear I shed on its behalf. The book itself begins by introducing us to Juliet Calhoon (permanently dubbed Jules) as she bathes in nostalgic remembrance of her recently departed grandfather. However, the true heart of the story begins long before Jules prepares to say goodbye to her much beloved guardian, when she meets a boy named Hobie in the third-grade.
The narrative flips seamlessly back and forth between the modern day and the memories of the childhood Jules spent with Hobie and her grandparents. The Jules of days past is a tomboy for the ages; rescuing dogs, adventuring trash dumps, and beating up bullies with Hobie by her side. Flash forward to the future and we have a Jules nearing forty, understandably heartsick over the loss of her “Pappy” but visibly broken somewhere deeper. She’s left a string of forlorn lovers in her wake and can feel herself slowly slipping away from Kelli, her current partner, as returning home to Ohio for her grandfather’s funeral begins to dredge up painful memories of remorse and regret. Just as she begins to disappear completely, a queer teen named Ronnie reaches out to Jules for help with an e-mail address and the words “I’m like you, Please help me get out of here” scrawled across a note shoved under the door of a bathroom stall. When Jules opens her heart to help the girl in need, she has no idea that it will inevitably force her to plunge headlong into the emotional maelstrom of her tragic past and what it means to finally overcome it.
Beautifully vivid and masterfully written, Turning for Home is an honest and rich telling of one woman’s journey to acceptance and happiness as she struggles to heal from the bitterly painful hardships of her life and strives to understand who she truly is without their weight. This isn’t a happy read by any means, but it is incredibly personal and powerfully composed. I found that the combined use of past and present narrations allowed me to connect very deeply with Jules as I came to know and love the both the vibrant child she was and the flawed but remarkable woman she grew to be. I highly recommend this book to any brave soul who wishes to shed a tear or two as they read what is easily, and without a doubt, one of the most poignantly heartfelt novels I have ever had the pleasure to read. I hope you have a box of tissues ready…you’ll need them.
Turning for Home
Caren J. Werlinger
A closeted pansexual feminist from a family of bible-thumping conservatives, Tabitha is an undergraduate English major with seven beautiful furbabies and more Sailor Moon collectibles than sense. Her hobbies include (but certainly are not limited to) reading, writing, and taking absurdly long baths. She currently resides in the middle of nowhere, which is naturally the perfect place to be when it comes time to read books for a living.