Booklist: the American

Library Association

Addie Bates can’t believe she’s headed back to San Diego—and with such an unusual troupe. It’s the summer of 1935, and the Sleepy Valley Nudist Colony has been chosen to present its healthful, vegetarian, and very nude lifestyle as an exhibit at the World’s Fair. The outraged protesters waving handmade signs don’t threaten Addie. She’s more concerned with the secrets she left in San Diego many years ago. After working up the nerve to visit her estranged sister once the ogling crowds have gotten their fill for the day, Addie discovers that her sister has kept some secrets of her own. Romo spins a tale of sacrifice, shame, and the bonds of sisterhood, maintaining an admirable sense of tone, contrasting the communal, hearty work of the nudist colony with Addie’s anxiety and isolation. Chapters are alternately narrated by Addie and her niece, jumping between their separate recollections of the past and their shared experiences of that strange summer. Readers who love Lisa See’s Shanghai Girls (2009) and the work of Kate Morton will enjoy the intriguing and multi-layered Whistling Women. —Stephanie Turza

Historical Novel Society

"Whistling Women is a well-crafted book that puts readers into the lives of the two generations of sisters. It’s also quirky, with the nudist colony backdrop."


Portland Book Review

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.

Author Notes

  • Even though the nudists in Whistling Women were fictional, many of their experiences were based on fact. 

  • The original nudists of Zoro Gardens came from Indiana and were joined by nudists from clubs in New York and Europe. Just as in my novel, they had spent the prior summer at the Chicago Century of Progress.

  • A judged fined the Ripley’s Believe-it-or-Not exhibit one hundred and fifty dollars for showing deformed people, in violation of California Penal Code.

  • The fair directors decided to run the exposition for a second season, so the colony returned in 1936.

  • Many of the midgets from the midget village went on to co-star as munchkins in The Wizard of Oz.

  • Sister Aimee Semple McPherson was a female evangilist with a following so vast, she was considered a celebrity. She opened the Angelus Temple in the 1920's, filling the 5,300 seat building for every service. She was the first evangelist to have her own radio show and references to a scandal involving her in my novel were based on fact. She died in 1944, just nine years after she refused to have tea with the nudists. Sister Aimee died of an apparent overdose of barbiturates, but her legacy lives on in the church she founded—the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.

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