When Isabelle McAllister asks her hairdresser, Dorrie Curtis, for a favor – it’s a big one. Isabelle wants Dorrie to close her shop for a few days and drive her from their Texas home to Cincinnati for a funeral. Dorrie is a black, single mother; Miss Isabelle is an 89-year-old widowed white woman. Yet the two of them have formed a friendship over the years, and Dorrie agrees. During the drive Isabelle slowly reveals the secret she’s kept for decades, unlocking her pain and grief and helping Dorrie to understand her own issues with trust and unconditional love.
The novels chapters alternate between Dorrie and Miss Isabelle as narrators, and between present day and 1939-1940 when Isabelle was a 17-year-old girl in love with a man she should not love. This is a tricky style to pull off, but Kibler does a good job of it, weaving the themes across the differences in time and narrator. I felt I got to know these two women, their strengths and flaws, just as they were getting to know one another. I was somewhat frustrated by the subplot of Dorrie’s current relationship with Teague. I felt a little at a loss as to what she was thinking, but perhaps that was Kibler’s design – to show how Dorrie has closed off her emotions, clinging to her fear. I also thought that the other characters in the book weren’t very well fleshed out – most were two-dimensional (or even one-dimensional, like Isabelle’s mother).
I was caught up in Isabelle’s story right away, and eventually in Dorrie’s as well. Kibler wrote in a way that kept me turning to pages to find out what would happen, though I had guessed the big secret long before it was revealed. The ending was poignant if a little too predictable. All told this is a good debut work and makes a great summer read. I look forward to her next book.