Strangers at the Feast

A Novel

Strangers at the Feast

On Thanksgiving Day 2007, as the country teeters on the brink of a recession, three generations of the Olson family gather. Eleanor and Gavin worry about their daughter, a single academic, and her newly adopted Indian child, and about their son, who has been caught in the imploding real-estate bubble. While the Olsons navigate the tensions and secrets that mark their relationships, seventeen-year-old Kijo Jackson and his best friend Spider set out from the nearby housing projects on a mysterious job. A series of tragic events bring these two worlds ever closer, exposing the dangerously thin line between suburban privilege and urban poverty, and culminating in a crime that will change everyone’s life.


In her gripping new book, Jennifer Vanderbes masterfully lays bare the fraught lives of this complex cast of characters and the lengths to which they will go to protect their families. Strangers at the Feast is at once a heartbreaking portrait of a family struggling to find happiness and an exploration of the hidden costs of the American dream.


Published to international acclaim, Jennifer Vanderbes’s first book, Easter Island, was hailed as “one of those rare novels that appeals equally to heart, mind, and soul,” by the San Francisco Chronicle. In her second novel, this powerful writer reaches new heights of storytelling. This page-turner wrestles with the most important issues of our time—race, class, and above all else, family. Strangers at the Feast will leave readers haunted and deeply affected.
  • Scribner | 
  • 352 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781439166987 | 
  • August 2011
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Strangers at the Feast  by Jennifer Vanderbes includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. 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. 



They had been happy people, thought Eleanor. When others spoke of what happened to her family, they shook their heads. But the Olsons were so happy! Happy, and peaceful.

When three generations of the Olson family gather on Thanksgiving Day, 2007, the family unexpectedly encounters a day fraught with frustration and fear.

First, Ginny—an unmarried thirty-something academic with a newly adopted Indian daughter—finds that her “vintage” kitchen refuses to comply with the demands of preparing Thanksgiving dinner. The family moves the feast to the estate-like home of Ginny’s brother, Dennis; his wife, Denise; and their three children. Douglas’s recent financial troubles and unwarranted optimism plague Denise as she contemplates divorcing him. Eleanor and Gavin, the matriarch and patriarch of the family, separately and silently reflect on their ever-diminishing place in the lives of their children.

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About the Author

Jennifer Vanderbes
Photograph by Eamon Hickey

Jennifer Vanderbes

Jennifer Vanderbes is the author of the novels The Secret of Raven Point, Easter Island, and Strangers at the Feast, and is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and a New York Public Library Cullman Fellowship. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Granta and has been translated into sixteen languages. She lives in New York City. Visit her website at


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