Family history is alive and well in the newest offering from Patricia MacLachlan. In Kindred Souls, she brings us the story of young Jake, who lives on the family farm with his parents, siblings and 88-year-old grandfather, Billy. The prairie setting feels like another character in the book, one that lives in the hearts of the whole family, especially Billy, who has one fervent hope: to see the sod house of his childhood rebuilt.
Readers see Billy and Jake’s life together through the little boy’s observations—the “predictable” walk they take together after the chores are done, the visit to the cows and horses and Billy’s near-whispered refrain at the end of their walk: “I miss that sod house.”
One day, a special dog arrives out of the blue and takes a shine to Billy, even visiting him when he ends up in the hospital. While Billy is recuperating, Jake and his family decide to build the sod house that Billy has hoped for. The happy activity of cutting the sod and picking out furniture lulls the reader, like Jake, into believing that Billy will live forever.
Adult readers will see it all coming but will still be saddened when Lucy, the angel dog, barks her sad bark to bring the family to the quiet sod house. And, though we are older and understand these things, we will join Jake in his confusion: He thought they built the house so Billy would stay, but it turns out they built the house so that he could leave.
Books for young children that speak openly about death and the cycle of life are rare, and rarer still are those that tell us the time to grieve and prepare is while our loved ones are still here. I promise Kindred Souls will make you cry, but these will be tears of recognition, reminding us to take care of our loved ones before they are gone.