Seattle, Washington

Larkin Bennett has always known her place, whether it’s surrounded by her loving family in the lush greenery of the Pacific Northwest or conducting a dusty patrol in Afghanistan. But all of that changed the day tragedy struck her unit and took away everything she held dear. Soon after, Larkin discovers an unexpected treasure – the diary of Emily Wilson, a young woman who disguised herself as a man to fight for the Union in the Civil War. As Larkin struggles to heal, she finds herself drawn deeply into Emily’s life and the secrets she kept.

Indiana, 1861

The only thing more dangerous to Emily Wilson than a rebel soldier is the risk of her own comrades in the Union army discovering her secret. But in the minds of her fellow soldiers, if it dresses like a man, swears like a man, and shoots like a man, it must be a man. As the war marches on and takes its terrible toll, Emily begins to question everything she thought she was fighting for.

"Riveting. The novel brings the Civil War era to life and effectively links it to contemporary times."  — Kirkus
"Illuminating, sympathetic, and deeply human, Today We Go Home shines a much-needed light on the brave, bold women of all eras whose military service puts even more than their lives on the line."
— Greer Macallister
(USA Today bestselling author of Woman 99 and The Magician’s Lie)
"Today We Go Home shines an illuminating light on history and the female soldiers who have served this country from the Civil War to Afghanistan today. Kelli Estes passionately brings the past to life, interweaving the story of two women from different centuries whose journey toward hope is timeless."
— Gwendolyn Womack
(USA Today bestselling author of The Fortune Teller and The Time Collector)
"Pairing the dual narratives of Larkin and Emily, Estes relates the hardships faced by women who serve in the military…Based on the real-life stories of women who served, this is an excellent read and highly recommended."
— Booklist

Reviews of Today We Go Home

For Book Clubs

Ideas to enhance your book club discussion:

  • If you want go out to dinner before or during your book club meeting, consider trying one that serves Afghan cuisine. An online search will tell if there are any near you. Try any of the dishes that appeal to you, but if you want to stick with the book, the dishes that Kaia prepared for Larkin are Kabuli pilau, bulani, tea, sheer pira, and cardamom pastries.
  • Ask members to bring photos and stories of women in their families who have served in the military and share them with the group. If you served or are serving, please share your story.
  • Ask members to bring photos and stories of ancestors who served during the Civil War.
  • Take a field trip to a local Civil War battlefield, museum, or other site. Take lots of photos and report back to your club all that you learned.
  • Attend a Civil War reenactment.
  • Ask everyone to come to the meeting dressed in Civil War era costumes.
  • Try your hand at making a batch of hardtack either as a group or beforehand to share.
  • Do some research on real women who served in the Civil War disguised as men and bring what you learn to share with the group. Some names to research: Albert D.J. Cashier, Sarah Emma Edmonds, Loreta Janeta Velazquez, Frances Clayton, Sarah Rosetta Wakeman,…
  • If you live near a winery or tasting room, stop in and pick up some wine to share with the group. Bonus points if it’s a Washington State wine! Or, go with the whole group for a tasting after your meeting!

Discussion Questions

  1. A major theme of the story explores the female soldier’s experience. Did any of these women’s experiences surprise you? If you have military experience, what are some challenges, prejudices, abuses, etc. that you experienced as a female military member or witnessed by other women in the military?
  2. Emily enlisted so she could be with her brother as well as for the adventure. Willie enlisted as a means of financial support. Neither were sexually or romantically motivated, yet women discovered in Union or Confederate ranks were usually accused of such. Why do you think this was? Has this changed in society and/or the military today?
  3. Emily lived in a state that declared it illegal for black people to live, work, or even visit. (Article 13 of Indiana’s 1851 Constitution: “No negro or mulatto shall come into or settle in the State, after the adoption of this Constitution.”) Do you think this helped or hindered her understanding of slavery and the growth of her abolitionist beliefs? Do you see any correlation between this lack of exposure to people of a different race and how we still experience racism today?
  4. Opening all military jobs to women in recent years has started the debate on whether women should be included in any future drafts/conscriptions. What do you think?
  5. The epigraph at the beginning of the book reads “Home isn’t where our house is, but wherever we are understood.” Emily’s home was in Indiana, yet it stopped being the place where people truly knew her. Larkin grew up in Seattle but chose to go home to her grandmother’s house in Woodinville because that’s where she’d feel best loved. What does home mean to you? Where is your “home”? Why?
  6. Through most of the story, Emily’s family is made up of her brother and Willie. For Larkin, it is her grandmother and cousins. Both women have other family members, but they feel emotionally disconnected from them. Who do you consider your true family, no matter if they are actual family? What is it about these people that you love so much?
  7. There are people still today who don’t believe the Civil War was about slavery. What do you think, and why?
  8. Were you surprised to learn that so many women disguised themselves as men to fight in the Civil War? Had you heard about any before reading this book? Did you look up any online while reading? Share what you know or learned with the group.
  9. Was it a surprise to you to learn that black men were not allowed to join the Union army until 1863? That they were segregated from white soldiers and led exclusively by white officers? That they were not paid the same wages as white soldiers until June 1864? That, if caught by Confederate forces, they were usually brutally killed and never taken prisoner? Do you think the war might have ended sooner if any of these facts were different?
  10. PTSD, while certainly discussed in relation to veterans, can also arise in people who have never served in the military. Even children can suffer from PTSD. Some known causes are sexual, physical, or emotional abuse; a natural disaster; a car accident; a long-term illness; etc. Do you have personal experience with PTSD (yourself or a loved one) that you can share with the group?
  11. Did the information in the story about the bacha posh of Afghanistan surprise you? Are there any similar practices in your culture where a female takes on the appearance and social expectations of a male? Why is the practice accepted in some cultures and not in others? Is it different if the decision is that of the child rather than the parents?
  12. Emily’s diary directly influenced Sarah’s decision to join the military. Imagine one of your ancestors left a diary detailing his or her experiences during an interesting time in history. What would you do with that information? Share with the group what you already know about your ancestor and the time he or she lived. How might learning more about this ancestor’s experiences through a diary affect you?
  13. After Emily’s story ends, her granddaughter makes an entry in her diary that gives some clues to what happened to Emily and the children. What do you think their lives were like living on the prairie? What, especially, do you think life was like for Gabriel as a cattle rancher when there were likely very few others who looked like him?
  14. Do you now think differently about women serving in the military? What are some actions you can take to support female veterans and show your appreciation for their service?

Bookmarks

If you'd like bookmarks, send the number you need along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope to:

Kelli Estes
P.O. Box 2851
Woodinville, WA 98072

Food and Beverage Guide

These ideas either appear in the book or are inspired by the characters. Have an idea to add to the list? Email Kelli.

Main Course

Present day

  • Cheese enchiladas
  • Taiwanese dumplings
  • Spaghetti
  • Pizza
  • Kabuli pilau
  • Bulani
  • Naan
  • Prime rib with green beans and twice-baked potatoes
  • Burgers and fries

Civil War Era

  • Soup
  • Beef stew
  • Biscuits
  • Fried pork (pork chops)
  • Fresh beef and buttered peas
  • Johnnycakes with maple syrup
  • Roasted chicken
  • Baked potatoes

Dessert

Present day

  • Sheer pira
  • Cardamom pastries
  • Pies and cookies
  • Jolly Ranchers
  • Tootsie Rolls
  • Fresh mango

Civil War Era

  • Sautéed apples with cinnamon and sugar
  • Molasses cookies
  • Fruitcake
  • Fresh fruit

Beverages

Present day

  • Corona with lime
  • Wine
  • Vodka
  • Tea
  • Jameson
  • Coffee
  • Gin
  • Peppermint mocha
  • Whiskey and Coke
  • Coke Icee (Slurpee)
  • Jim Beam

Civil War Era

  • Coffee
  • Applejack
  • Brandy
  • Whiskey

Bibliography

Want to see the books Kelli used in her research for Today We Go Home? Download the bibliography here.