This reading group guide for All Roads Lead Me Back to You includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Kennedy Foster. 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.
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Alice Andison never expected romance. She’s a rancher who singlehandedly runs the family outfit, Standfast, in the foothills of the Blue Mountains of Washington State. Horses and dogs are all the company she wants. Alice would do just about anything to protect Standfast from part-owner Jerry Graeme, who is threatening to sell the ranch to
pay off his gambling debts. Domingo Roque wasn’t looking for love either. A Mexican ranch hand working illegally in the States, Domingo is on the run from the immigration police, fleeing with just his horse and the clothes on his back. A bad fall leaves Domingo half-frozen in the snow near Standfast, where Alice finds him. At first Domingo mistakes his rescuer for a man, and then he’s even more puzzled to find himself working for a woman. Alice appreciates his help on the ranch, but she’s breaking the law, risking Standfast for Domingo’s expertise and companionship. To the amazement of both, through seasons of grueling workdays their tentative friendship slowly blossoms into love. But Standfast is no refuge for the new couple. Jerry Graeme continues to menace its very existence. And though Domingo may have found a home, there’s one last secret he hasn’t told Alice—he has a daughter. Questions for Discussion
1. What were your first impressions of Domingo Roque and Alice Andison? What do Domingo and Alice think of each other when they first meet? Are first impressions to be trusted in this novel? Why or why not?
2. Both Domingo and Alice share the stories of how their parents met. (104, 306) Although they take place worlds apart, what do the Andison and Roque family stories have in common? What do these histories reveal about Alice and Domingo’s personalities?
3. What stereotypes does Domingo have about Americans and American families? What does Alice assume about Mexicans and Mexican families? How do they come to disprove these stereotypes?
4. How do you feel about Domingo’s status as an illegal immigrant, and of Alice helping him to avoid the INS? Did you identify with him and his plight? Did this book change any of your prior perceptions of immigrants and immigration law?
5. Janet Weston says about illegal immigration status, “It’s like pregnant, darlin’, either you is or you ain’t.” (38) What are Janet’s views on immigration law? How do her opinions shift over the course of the novel?
6. A friend at the Westons’ Fourth of July party asks Alice about Domingo, “ ‘Is he a lover, a brother, a buddy?’ Their ninthgrade formula for the perfect boyfriend.” (264) Does Domingo fit the criteria for the perfect boyfriend? Is the formula relevant to Alice and Domingo’s romance? Why or why not?7. All Roads Lead Me Back to You
has two antagonists: Jerry Graeme and Brandon Galante. Who do you find more sinister? Who brings the most trouble to Standfast?
8. Domingo defines “ranch romance” as “love for all seasons, getting on with whatever needed doing.” (230) How is this ranch romance different from Alice and Domingo’s previous romantic attachments? Why do you think this is?
9. Domingo says to Alice about Standfast, “And so I’m bound to this place of yours. And may it always be yours.”
(292) Why doesn’t Domingo call Standfast “ours”? How does Alice’s position as Domingo’s boss impact their relationship? Can an equal romantic partnership exist on a ranch where Alice is owner and boss? Why or why not? By the end of the novel, whom does Standfast really belong to?
10. What challenges might lie ahead for Alice and Domingo? Imagine a sequel to All Roads Lead Me Back to You.
What would happen in it? Enhance Your Book Club
1. For your book club meeting, whip up a batch of quesadillas, the first meal that Domingo cooks for Alice. Use your favorite recipe, or try this one from Gourmet
2. If there are stables in your area, take your book club for a horseback ride! Share the photos at your next book club meeting.
3. Teach your book club how to tie a lariat, or “lasso.” Practice on some lengths of clothesline rope. You can find step-by-step instructions here: http://www.ehow.com/how_2105211_tielasso.html.
4. Research and discuss immigration law and its reform and enforcement. A Conversation with Kennedy Foster
1. Have you ever lived or worked on a ranch? What were some of the challenges of conveying the rhythms and lingo of ranch work to your readers?I’ve never done ranch work, but it’s all around us here. Our community college has a good agriculture department and a hot rodeo team, cowboys and cowgirls all over the place. Till a couple of years ago, the roping steers used to be trailed through town at Fair time. We townies may not have irons in the fire, but we know what’s going on.That’s a good question, about approximating the local working speech. Wranglers and farriers and such folks are not chatty. Also, a fair number of them are well-traveled and/or well-read, and some are bilingual. So expression is pretty diverse; it’s not like a dialect you can learn. And you can’t pack a notebook and a Bic around with you; people would wonder. You just have to keep your ears open. The hard part for me is distinguishing terms that readers will know or can guess at from words that will leave them stumped. For example, what do you guess this means: “He’s pretty skookum with the julián”?
2. All Roads Lead Me Back to You
provides information on a number of fascinating topics, including ranch work, immigration law, property law, and Mexican and Scottish culture. How did you go about researching these topics for your novel?To tell the truth, I haven’t done much formal research, if you mean the library and the Internet. I’m my department’s informal immigration advisor, so that stuff is ready to hand. And when we’ve lived in Scotland, I’ve usually found some kind of volunteer work to do to get into the community. (Scots are mostly welcoming and communicative; it’s only the English who think they’re dour.) As far as Mexico is concerned, two of my colleagues are true biculturals, absolutely fluent in both directions, and thoughtful about their situation. They’ve taken a lot of trouble to sort me out about certain things, and my Mexican students do their best for me when they aren’t falling down laughing. And of course, as Philip Weston is wont to observe, property law is a mystery to everybody.
3. The dialogue between Alice and Domingo is truly unique, a blend of her comical Spanish and his tentative English. Which moment of miscommunication do you find especially funny or poignant?The really awkward one was where he asked her whether she wanted another child. Wow.
That could have gone real bad. But I still think it’s funny when she yells, “Sonofaduck!”
4. The love story between Alice and Domingo progresses slowly but blooms quickly. How did you handle the pacing of their romance?The first couple drafts of it were more gradual, but felt all wrong for the characters. They are adults after all, and pretty selfdisciplined, self-controlled. And not looking for it. So I tried it out as more abrupt. That was better. But I thought, “Well, there must have been
some clues, for Pete’s sake.” So I went back and tried to see where there might be signs that the reader would see, but those two wouldn’t.
5. Immigration policy is a huge topic in the book. Was it difficult to portray the different sides of immigration law impartially? Which character’s opinions come closest to your own views on immigration?There’s really only one aspect of the problem addressed in this story: the unfairness of the current laws to people who come here needing and wanting to work. To develop other sides of the question, such as the prospect of creating a virtual slave-class who can’t appeal to our laws for redress of crimes against them, or the patent fact that illegals who work for less than minimum wage undermine the advances in pay and working conditions made by organized labor, would have made the novel a polemic. I suppose Janet Weston comes closest to my view.
6. Friends, neighbors, and work associates form a diverse extended family around Standfast. Which of these smaller characters is your personal favorite?I’m pretty fond of Nick Weston. He’s an irritating little toot, but kind of sweet.
7. Gender roles play a big part in the novel. Do you think that living on a ranch makes men’s and women’s roles more or less flexible? Why?More. Because the work has to get done by somebody, that’s all. If cows don’t get fed in winter, they die, so they don’t care who is cutting the baling twine.
8. Alice’s nickname, Roan, refers to a roan mule, and Domingo’s father used to call him an ox. How did you choose these two animals to describe your main characters?The name Roan actually refers to Alice’s freckles, but the mule business came from William Faulkner’s oft-quoted line about a mule being willing to work for a man ten years for the privilege of kicking him once. She’s such a model of unglamorous endurance—and such an easy keeper!—that she seems to have earned her kicking privileges. Also, she’s childless, barren like a mule. About Domingo, “ox” is ironic: he’s thoroughly masculine, also quick, clever, and good to look at.
9. Jerry Graeme is an unusual antagonist; Alice describes him as “her only enemy,” (31) but she has mixed feelings after his death. Who inspired this sinister character? Do you have any sympathy for him, or did you cast him as a purely evil character?I sweated over that guy. He’s nastier than I meant him to be; I think that’s why I got him out of the way so quickly after the attack. He was making me sick. The worst of it is, I know how scared and sad, how absolutely wretched such a person would feel practically all the time. People don’t botch themselves; they
get botched, and then they have to live like that. That’s what Alice sees, once the threat is gone.
10. All Roads Lead Me Back to You
is your first novel. What can readers look forward to in your next work?Some of the same characters. I’m getting interested in JoNelle Jussum. And of course there’s a lot more to be said about Socorro Roque. And my dad wants me to write something about the Army. Now, how’s that going to work?