Have you ever wondered about what life would be like in the California of the 1930s? Kelly Romo’s novel Whistling Women reveals a snippet of life during the San Diego World’s Fair of 1935-36. Although written in the third person, the tale switches narration from the points of view of Addie Bates and her young niece, Rumor Donnelly. Both narrators come from two sister families – each is the younger sister of the pair. That is where the obvious similarities stop. Addie has spent the last fifteen years running away from her past and hiding in a nudist colony, as ironic as that may sound. Rumor’s overwhelming curiosity and strong willed single-mindedness propel her toward adventures and into unusual situations.
Romo develops all of her characters well: from the lovely and delicate Frieda – queen of the nudists – to the rough, yet tender, Papa Jack – father to the younger pair of sisters. The intricacies and weaving of relationships are built through repeated romps through the current experiences as well as memories of the two narrators. Romo’s settings are painted with a broad brush and filled in with strong and stark details: from the simple mention of the building of the bridge across the Golden Gate, to the details of wooden planks and holes surrounding the nudist colony at the Fair. She expertly fleshes out the necessary details while subtly dropping commentaries to keep the era clearly in the reader’s view.
The story line is about family, specifically women in families dealing with difficult, even overwhelming, issues. Addie hopes to reunite with her sister Wavey, though she carries a burden of guilt and shame. When Rumor, Wavey’s younger daughter, discovers she has an aunt, she is determined to get to know her, despite every barrier Wavey can put in her way. The passages to those connections are not easy. Romo builds the path and barriers skillfully to a conclusion that is realistic and not happily-ever-after.
While one could say Whistling Women is predominantly a women’s book, it unfolds with depth and care that any reader would enjoy. The issues, though set in a particular time frame, are timeless and relevant to today’s world.
[signoff predefined=”Social Media Reminder” icon=”twitter”][/signoff]