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REVIEW: Carry Me Home by Sandra Kring

Dear Ms. Kring,

book review Jane often sends me packages of arcs and free books we receive at Dear Author. I think sometimes it’s just to get them out of her house as I’m sure she’s swimming in them. Many times I’ll read the back blurb and think, “Oh, no thank you Jane.” But every once in a while, Jane will send me a book that I might never have tried on my own but which proves to be one I’m glad I got a chance to read. “Carry Me Home” is such a book.

On the surface, it seems straightforward enough. A young man narrates his life in rural Wisconsin in the years before, during and after WWII. And as such, it’s a book that romance readers might not be interested in, though there are secondary romances for two of the characters. It wasn’t until I began reading that I discovered that Earl Hedwig Gunderman, Earwig for short, is a “sixteen -year-old, dumb-as-a-stump brother” who’s going to tell us about his life, his brother, his family and the small town he lives in. Though his eyes, we see how the war is going to change them all.

Though he’s got the body of a growing young man, Earwig will forever be interested in comic books, proud of any new accomplishments he manages to learn and uncertain of why some things are the way they are. I guess the only difference between him and the grown ups is that he doesn’t stop before asking “why.” Sometimes all he gets is his Ma pinching his wrist which is her way of telling him to be quiet but other times, the people around him stop, think about what he asked and try to simplify the world for him in words and thoughts he can understand. And in so doing, they explain their feelings and beliefs to your readers.

Earwig’s Ma takes out her worry and frustration that her oldest boy has been shipped off to war on her husband and Earwig. It’s men who want to fight wars, why do they always want to fight, why do women have to lose their sons and brothers and husbands? After she storms away from the dinner table, she doesn’t hear, as Earwig does, his father softly telling her that they are the men’s sons and brothers as well.

Earwig, despite his mental challenges, is a fine observer. Even though he may not always understand what he sees or hears, we can figure out what lies below the surface from what he tells others. At other times, he hears just enough to frighten him, as young children often are when they don’t know or understand what is going on around them.

I was touched and saddened by the return of Jimmy, Earwig’s brother, and two of his friends. Readers will know these men are never going to be the happy-go-lucky people they were, especially since Jimmy and Floyd were initially shipped out to the Philippines. It will take the folks back home a while to admit the war will always be in those men who survived. And it will take the men a long time to try and work through surviving what they often wished had killed them. Though I was glad to see them begin to live again, at times it does seem like those around them are either extremely gifted in being able to say the right thing or they’re closet psychiatrists.

Earwig’s narrative sucked me into the details of the small town world he lives in. The people, the places, and the events come alive. I know some readers will probably not want to read the amount of curse words that fill the book or would prefer that Earwig not be as amused at fart jokes as he is but I think it makes sense for someone whose intelligence will never progress beyond a second grader’s. And let’s face it, boys that age are enamored with bathroom humor and love to giggle about it. A friend of mine says when he was a child, his older brother used to hold him down and try and fart in his face. Boys….

I like that none of the characters are saints or perfect. They’re human, which makes them far more interesting to me. So yeah, maybe Earwig’s outburst to the town gossip is a bit too conveniently placed to give us a boost just when we need it but – darn it! – I laughed along with his mother and thought, “old biddy deserved that.”

There’s some intense stuff between the covers of this book. Some things made me laugh while other incidents broke my heart. But there’s a timelessness to the problems the characters face that makes the book relevant to what what’s going on today and what, unfortunately, will undoubtedly go on years from now. And look at that. Schlitz beer is back! Earwig might not want any but I hope Jimmy, Floyd and John can still toast Louie. B

~Jayne

This book can be purchased in trade paperback from Amazon or Powells or ebook format.

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

7 Comments

  1. MCHalliday
    Aug 26, 2008 @ 15:52:20

    Earl Hedwig Gunderman, Earwig for short

    I likely would enjoy this B reviewed book for I do love a good historical, but I must pass due to the hero’s nickname…earwigs are horrendous insects that completely revolt me with their lobster-like claws and insidious inflitration. Eeeek!

  2. SonomaLass
    Aug 26, 2008 @ 18:37:21

    Excellent review, Jayne. As usual, you do a great job of telling what you liked about the book in a way that helps us figure out whether we’d like it or not. I can think of several people to whom I will recommend this — thanks!

  3. Bev Stephans
    Aug 26, 2008 @ 18:54:06

    This sounds like I really might enjoy it, so I put it on my Books-A-Million wishlist.

    Even though it was a romance, Lavyrle Spencer’s “Morning Glory” dealt with World War II, pre-war, during and post-war. This was seen through the eyes of the characters in a small Georgia town. It was a very good book and I went on to read more of her works. None of her other books quite measured up to “Morning Glory”, but a few came close.

    I realize that I got off the track, but when you were describing “Carry Me Home”, it made me think of “Morning Glory”.

  4. Jayne
    Aug 26, 2008 @ 18:59:45

    MC, if you hate them that much, then yes, you’ll have to pass as Earl is very proud of his nickname and insists that others use it.

  5. Jayne
    Aug 26, 2008 @ 19:00:40

    Thanks! I hope those to whom you recommend it will enjoy it.

  6. Jayne
    Aug 26, 2008 @ 19:01:36

    Bev, I love “Morning Glory.” IIRC, it’s the first Spencer book I read and I agree, nothing has quite matched up to it since.

  7. TracyS
    Aug 26, 2008 @ 23:18:39

    A friend of mine says when he was a child, his older brother used to hold him down and try and fart in his face. Boys….

    heh. I have two boys~9 and 6. I can attest to their preoccupation with any kind of potty humor. I hear “hey, don’t hit me in the nuts, weiner etc etc” at least once a day!

    Also, since I live in WI, this might be interesting. . .

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