Synopses & Reviews
The love of family. The heartbreak of war. The triumph of coming home.
1940. Rural Wisconsin. Sixteen-year-old Earl “Earwig” Gunderman is not like other boys his age. Fiercely protected by his older brother, Earwig sees his town and the world around him through the prism of his own unique understanding. He sees his mother’s sadness and his father’s growing solitude. He sees his brother, Jimmy, falling in love with the most beautiful girl in town. And while Earwig is unable to make change for customers at his family’s store, he is singularly well suited to understand what other people in his town cannot: that life as they know it is about to change; the coming war will touch them all.
For Jimmy will enlist in the military. And Earwig will watch his parents’ marriage buckle under the strain of a family secret. And when Jimmy returns a fractured shadow of his former self it is Earwig’s turn to care for him. His struggles to right the wrongs visited upon his revered older brother by war, women, and life are at once heartwarming and riotously funny. Their family and town irrevocably altered, Earwig and Jimmy fight to find their own places in a world changed forever.
"Earnestly narrated by brain-damaged 16-year-old Earl 'Earwig' Gunderman ('Ma said that after the fever was gone, my brain was like meat cooked too long, and it just fell apart whenever I tried to learn something new'), Kring's heartfelt debut explores the effects of WWII on a smalltown Wisconsin family. Earwig, whose intellectual difficulties are balanced by his sharp emotional intelligence, gets a significant assist in the growing-up process from his older brother, Jimmy. But after enlisting in the National Guard on a drunken whim, Jimmy is shipped out with one of the first ill-equipped units to be sent to the Philippines. When his unit is overrun in Bataan, his fate is assumed to be grim. At home, Earwig sighs about rationing, discovers a dark family secret and hopes for Jimmy's safe return. And Jimmy does come home, but, shell-shocked after years as a POW, he drowns his sorrows in drink. It takes Earwig's devotion and a tender new relationship with young widow Eva Leigh to turn him around. Kring's narrative is familiar at first, but hits its stride after Jimmy's homecoming, capturing family tensions and the divisive town dynamics when Jimmy and his fellow soldiers criticize the government for abandoning them in Bataan. Strong characters, a clear community portrait and a memorable protagonist whose poignant fumblings cloak an innocent wisdom demonstrate Kring's promise. Agent, Catherine Fowler. (On sale Dec. 28)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
When Earl "Earwig" Gunderman, a simple-minded teenager from Willowridge, Wisconsin, isn't working in his family's grocery store, he sneaks out with his older brother Jimmy and Jimmy's friends to fish and drink and talk about life. His understanding of the world may be limited in some ways, but profound and uproarious in others. Then the country is thrust into war, and Jimmy is sent to the Pacific. Earwig must cope without the protection of his revered older brother, and cope he does, though in the shadow of a wrenching family secret and agonized by Jimmy's undetermined fate. Then Jimmy comes home. Three years have passed, years he spent as a prisoner of war, and when he returns he is a shadow of the confident, heroic young man he used to be. Earwig is thrust into a role he never could have imagined of protector to someone who protected him all his young life. His struggle to bring his family together, and to right the wrongs visited upon Jimmy by war, women, and life, are at once riotously funny and brimming with tenderness and warmth.
About the Author
Sandra Kring lives in the north woods of Wisconsin. She has run support groups and workshops for adult survivors of trauma. Carry Me Home is her first novel.
Reading Group Guide
As World War II descends on the close-knit families of Willowridge, Wisconsin, the town’s wisest resident proves to be a simpleminded teenage boy nicknamed Earwig. Though a childhood illness left his mind diminished in some ways, he has a gift for candidly sorting fact from gossip and offering unbridled advice. When his beloved brother, Jimmy, is sent to the Pacific and becomes a prisoner of war, Earwig keeps his family hopeful while he struggles to understand the nature of suffering itself. And in the aftermath of war, it is Earwig who brings Jimmy back from a state of trauma and anguish, giving voice to the truths that remain unspeakable to the rest of Willowridge.
By turns tender and wry, Carry Me Home captures a mesmerizing snapshot of love–between brothers, parents, young couples, and lifelong friends–through the eyes of a frank, inspiring narrator. The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Sandra Kring’s Carry Me Home. We hope they will enrich your experience of this heartwarming novel.
1. What are your initial impressions of Earwig? What does the opening scene reveal about his community?
2. Mrs. Gunderman often says, “We always pay for our mistakes.” What does she perceive her mistakes to be, and what price does she believe she has paid for them? Do any of the novel’s characters pay for tragedies that are simply due to circumstance, in which no one is to blame?
3. Earwig’s community divides women into two distinct moral categories, perplexed by the euphemism about not buying a cow when the milk can be obtained for free. How do these codes translate for Earwig? What moral categories does he establish for himself? Is gender a factor in them?
4. How was Earwig affected by his discovery of the family secret? How does his newfound knowledge affect the narrative overall?
5. What enables Mrs. Pritchard–and those who are like her in our contemporary lives–to feel so confident about her opinions? Did benevolence motivate her to share And They Shall Walk with Eddie?
6. Discuss the presence of Lucky in Earwig’s life. What is the significance of his being surreptitiously named after Charles Lindbergh, whom Mr. Gunderman despises? How does the presence of a pet, especially one that is difficult to train, transform Earwig?
7. What do the novel’s characters teach Earwig about being a man? Does he get conflicting advice from his mother and father, Jimmy and his friends, and the women in town?
8. Is Wisconsin a significant aspect of the novel’s setting, or does the fictional Willowridge capture the experience of most small towns in America during the 1940s?
9. Discuss the circumstances of Jimmy’s enlistment, and his involvement in the horrific Bataan POW camp. What does his narrative convey about the individual nature of every person serving in the armed forces? How are fate and choice balanced in Jimmy’s story?
10. How would you characterize Earwig’s voice? How do his irreverence and haphazard grammar make for engaging storytelling? What determines whether those features make a narrator attractive? Why aren’t the other characters able to achieve his level of clarity?
11. Compare the time period depicted in the novel to the present day. Earwig witnessed a tremendous economic shift, one that caused his father to take a job in another town while everyone tracked their ration allotments. Earwig also witnessed a period when unprecedented numbers of women temporarily entered the workforce. Did his generation possess more gratitude and resilience? Or are current generations just as strong and enlightened?
12. Jimmy comes home at a time when the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder was essentially unknown territory and the horrors of war were not to be discussed, much less publicized. What techniques do the novel’s characters use to heal Jimmy and Floyd? How does Earwig ultimately carry his brother home? What members of your family or community could “carry you home” from a similar emotional state?
13. While others looked to the mailman for information about loved ones, Earwig relied on the sign of the blue star to tell him whether Jimmy was alive. What beacons do you look to for reassurance?
14. What aspects of history did you learn about in Carry Me Home? What details of life during World War II were new to you?
15. Though Floyd feels tremendous guilt about surviving his internment, the birth of his baby girl appears to set him free in many ways. Just as Earwig’s parents passed many legacies and wise words on to him, what legacy will Floyd impart to his child?
16. Seeking a more independent life, Earwig declines his brother’s offer to live with him and Eva Leigh. In a last glimpse of the brothers, on the eve of these new chapters in their lives, we see them returning to their beloved millpond. In what ways have they changed since the initial scene at the millpond? What remains permanent for them?