The Blue Orchard

A Novel

The Blue Orchard

On the eve of the Great Depression, Verna Krone, the child of Irish immigrants, must leave the eighth grade and begin working as a maid to help support her family. Her employer takes inappropriate liberties, and as Verna matures, it seems as if each man she meets is worse than the last. Through sheer force of will and a few chance encounters, she manages to teach herself to read and becomes a nurse. But Verna’s new life falls to pieces when she is arrested for assisting a black doctor with "illegal surgeries." As the media firestorm rages, Verna reflects on her life while awaiting trial.

Based on the life of the author’s own grandmother and written after almost three hundred interviews with those involved in the real-life scandal, The Blue Orchard is as elegant and moving as it is exact and convincing. It is a dazzling portrayal of the changes America underwent in the first fifty years of the twentieth century. Readers will be swept into a time period that in many ways mirrors our own. Verna Krone’s story is ultimately a story of the indomitable nature of the human spirit—and a reminder that determination and self-education can defy the deforming pressures that keep women and other disenfranchised groups down.
  • Touchstone | 
  • 416 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781416592945 | 
  • January 2010
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Blue Orchard includes discussion questions and a Q&A with author Jackson Taylor. 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. 


For Discussion

1. In the Prologue, Verna candidly describes herself and the circumstances of her arrest, even admitting some of her flaws. What was your impression of her after reading the Prologue? In what ways did this initial introduction of Verna influence how you viewed her throughout the story?

2. Compare Verna’s opinion of Dr. Crampton before she meets him to her view of him during their first encounter. How does their relationship change over the years, both on a professional and a personal level?

3. When Verna finds out Dora is assisting Dr. Crampton with abortions, she tells her that what she is doing is wrong and cites the nursing manual oath. Why does Verna then decide to work for Dr. Crampton? How does she regard the legal implications of what she’s doing?

4. Verna admits to Dewey, “I don’t think the world of men. They’ve always made me suffer” (page 158). Discuss Verna’s encounters and relationships with the various men in her life—Mr. Wertz, Murphy, Charles Dennis, Norm, and Dewey. Why doe see more

About the Author

Jackson Taylor
Tom Cocotos

Jackson Taylor

Jackson Taylor is the Associate Director of The New School's Graduate Writing Program, which he helped launch, and where he teaches. For more than fifteen years he has been the Director of The Prison Writing Program at PEN American Center. His short fiction has appeared in Spit, Pink, Moss and Punk, and his poems have appeared in Lit, Sleeping Fish, Witness, and others. For three years he worked at The New York Times in the Culture, Arts and Leisure, and the National desks. He holds a BA from Columbia and an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. He lives in Manhattan and Greenport.