We’re Reading Today We Go Home by Kelli Estes

We’re Reading Today We Go Home by Kelli Estes

by Angela Garrison Zontek

Some folks turn to books for comfort, others for inspiration. For me, it has always been about good, old-fashioned escapism. When the chaos of life comes nipping at my heels, I retreat to a hot bath with one of my favorite books. In Today We Go Home, two women also find comfort in the pages of a book — a diary.

The first young woman disguised as a male soldier in the American Civil War journals about her experiences on the battlefields. The other, a female veteran having just returned home to heal after being injured in Afghanistan, turns to that same diary, now an heirloom, for a sense of connection to a fallen friend.

The author, Kelli Estes uses alternating landscapes of past and present to weave together this fictional tale about the tragedy of war and the way it is experienced by women. She offers a unique perspective in her choice to tell the story through female soldiers, one that isn’t often found in literature, and it speaks to the universal struggles all women feel at some point in their lives. Despite having never served in the military, I found myself connecting with Larkin and Emily.  

“But she did not speak, and she did not run. She’d made a promise to serve her country, and so she would.”

Emily, a teenaged farm girl in Indiana, wants to join the Union army to fight alongside her father and older brother. She’s left behind with a younger brother to help manage the family farms. When they receive word that her father died in battle, Emily and her brother face a dismal existence at home with a cruel and miserly uncle. The pair runs away and eventually find themselves as registered soldiers in the Union Army. Emily carries a diary with her, a last gift from her father, that she uses to chronicle her daily experiences.

“I love most things about being a soldier, but I despise the killing.”

Larkin returns home from Afghanistan after being injured in a blast that also killed her best friend, Sarah. While sorting through Sarah’s possessions, she finds an old diary belonging to one of Sarah’s ancestors.  Larkin, who has begun to suffer from PTSD, clings to the diary for the connection it provides to the friend she lost. However, the more she reads, the more she finds a sense of companionship and understanding in the girl who wrote the diary—Emily.

“Even in war, peace finds a way.”

The two women are on similar journeys. Both Emily and Larkin have experienced the horrors of war, struggle with complicated family lives, and carry a tremendous amount of grief. However, both of these women are survivors in the truest sense, and they are fortunate enough to have support from friends to help them heal and forge new paths into the future.

Estes does a wonderful job of also introducing a fun element of mystery into this tale. Emily’s chronicling of her desire to track down a friend becomes Larkin’s passion as well, and the mystery brings Larkin back into the world — encouraging her to take the first steps toward addressing her PTSD. The journey to identify this nameless person from long ago is both noble and sweet and ends up sending an undercurrent of romance through the second half of the book.

I enjoyed this book for the companionship. One can’t help but picture themselves huddled around a campfire drinking bitter coffee with Emily or having an ugly cry with Larkin as she confesses her secrets. This tender story about complex women is an easy one to fall into. It makes the perfect read for those who savor the finer details of historical fiction and love to cheer for strong female protagonists.

Kelli Estes grew up in apple country near Yakima, Washington before attending Arizona State University where she learned she is happiest living near the water. Today she lives near Seattle with her husband and two sons. When not writing, Kelli is hiking, reading, exploring, traveling, or drinking tea. You can follow Kelli Estes on her Twitter and Facebook.

Today We Go Home published by Sourcebooks Landmark on September 3, 2019.

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