Friendship is a major theme within The Calling. As the often strained but nevertheless persistent relationship between the two main characters, Riley (a purple martin) and Hilton (a pigeon), develops within Kiefer's adorable yet gripping debut novel, a meditation on reality also develops. The meditation is this: as a friend, where does one's loyalties lie? How should one behave? And why?
Riley is torn between his devotion to his family, their ideas, and their traditions, and the new urge to help an outsider in need. His family, a clan of birds called the purple martins, is making their annual migration soon, which will be his very first migration experience. Days before this migration, he discovers a "dirty, dangerous" (according to his family) pigeon blown in from a storm, wounded. Conflicted between his idea of righteousness and his family's obsession with survival--with including no outsiders--he chooses to help the pigeon, Hilton.
As with all major relationships, twists and subtleties abound in the two birds' new relationship. Starry-eyed about his good deed and newfound friendship, Riley quickly discovers the bitter aftertaste so many of us do: he was used. He was never wanted as an individual. Now he must decide if his decision retains value regardless of this betrayal as well as how to regard his "friend" from here out. Is friendship dependent on another's actions or is it a devotion independent of factors beyond one's control? Is love a choice or an exchange?