Starting from Scratch

A Novel

Starting from Scratch

Why is someone who just defended her doctoral dissertation still wasting her time at her childhood home, two months after her mother’s funeral, making coq au vin and osso buco? Olivia Tschetter, the youngest of four high-achieving South Dakotan siblings, is not returning to “normal”—or to graduate school— quickly enough to suit her family. She wants only to bury herself in her mother’s kitchen, finding solace in their shared passion for cooking.

Threatened with grief counseling, Olivia accepts a temporary position at the local Meals on Wheels, where she stumbles upon some unfinished business from her mother’s past—and a dark family secret. Startling announcements from two siblings also challenge the family’s status quo. The last thing she needs is a deepening romantic interest in a close but platonic (she thought) friend.

But while Olivia’s mother is gone, her memory and spirit continue to engage Olivia, who finds herself daring to speak when she would never have spoken before. Told with humor and compassion, Starting from Scratch explores the shifting of family dynamics in the wake of shattering loss and the healing power of cooking.
  • Touchstone | 
  • 336 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781439143162 | 
  • August 2010
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Starting from Scratch includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Susan Gilbert-Collins. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


When her mother dies suddenly, just as she is defending her doctoral dissertation, Olivia Tschetter’s world falls apart. Upon returning home she must face her father and three older siblings, who, despite all she’s accomplished, continue to treat her like a child. Through her passion for cooking—a love she had shared with her mother—Olivia finally begins to confront her grief. Along the way she makes both painful and joyous discoveries that change her perspective on herself, her family, and the many lives touched by her mother. Interspersed with delicious recipes, Starting from Scratch is a funny, bittersweet ode to the power of family bonds and the solace of good food.


For Discussion

1. Of all of her siblings, Olivia is closest to Annie, yet they are the farthest apart in age. Do you think their closeness is because of this difference?

2. Conversely, Olivia shows frustration and irritation toward her other two sibling see more

About the Author

Susan Gilbert-Collins
Amy Collins

Susan Gilbert-Collins

Born and raised in South Dakota, Susan Gilbert-Collins studied English at Oberlin College and holds an M.A. in English as a Second Language from the University of Minnesota. While she enjoyed teaching international students and adult immigrants, she now freelances as a technical writer in order to have more time to focus on her first love, fiction. She lives with her husband and young son in Rochester, New York.