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From the author of The Salt House and This Is Home comes a profound novel about the power of community and a small town’s long-buried secrets as a group of New England islanders come together for a recently orphaned girl.

On Ichabod Island, a jagged strip of land thirteen miles off the coast of Massachusetts, ten-year-old Sky becomes an orphan for the second time after a tragic accident claims the lives of her adoptive parents.

Grieving the death of his best friends, Leo’s life is turned upside down when he finds himself the guardian of young Sky. Back on the island and struggling to balance his new responsibilities and his marriage to his husband, Leo is supported by a powerful community of neighbors, many of them harboring secrets of their own.

Maggie, who helps with Sky’s childcare, has hit a breaking point with her police chief husband, who becomes embroiled in a local scandal. Her best friend Agnes, the island busybody, invites Sky’s estranged grandmother to stay for the summer, straining already precarious relationships. Their neighbor Joe struggles with whether to tell all was not well in Sky’s house in the months leading up to the accident. And among them all is a mysterious woman, drawn to Ichabod to fulfill a dying wish.

Perfect for fans of Celeste Ng and Ann Leary, My Kind of People is a riveting, impassioned novel about the resilience of community and what connects us all in the face of tragedy.

This reading group guide for My Kind of People includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Lisa Duffy. 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.

Introduction

On Ichabod Island, a jagged strip of land thirteen miles off the coast of Massachusetts, ten-year-old Sky becomes an orphan for the second time after a tragic accident claims the lives of her adoptive parents.

While grieving the death of his best friends, Leo’s life is turned upside down when he finds himself the guardian of young Sky. Back on the island and struggling to balance his new responsibilities and his marriage to his husband, Leo is supported by a powerful community of neighbors, many of them harboring secrets of their own.

Maggie, who helps with Sky’s childcare, has hit a breaking point with her police chief husband, who becomes embroiled in a local scandal. Her best friend, Agnes, the island busybody, invites Sky’s estranged grandmother to stay for the summer, straining already precarious relationships. Their neighbor Joe struggles with whether to tell that all was not well in Sky’s house in the months leading up to the accident. And among them all is a mysterious woman, drawn to Ichabod to fulfill a dying wish.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. The novel alternates between points of view in every chapter. Do you think this was an effective storytelling technique? What overall effect did this have on your reading experience?

2. Ichabod Island is home to a wide variety of family archetypes, both traditional and nontraditional. Compare the defining outward traits of each of the families in My Kind of People to what is really going on behind closed doors.

3. Joe and Maggie find Xavier to be abrasive; however, Maggie would like to be on good terms with Xavier simply because he is Leo’s husband. Have you ever felt you should keep the peace for the sake of a loved one?

4. Agnes is described as bossy, rude, and the town busybody. Maggie is a kind-hearted schoolteacher. The pair are best friends, but Maggie thinks they’ve lasted so long because “they don’t talk about religion or politics.” Do you think it is realistic that a friendship spanning decades can survive current events having opposing points of view on these topics?

5. Xavier is adamant not to change the life he and Leo had before the accident, but, despite previously not wanting to have children, Leo feels he owes it to Ann and Brian to take care of Sky. Do you think either of the men is right or wrong in his reasoning? Why or why not?

6. “Sky has two favorite places in the world: One is next to Frankie and the other is roaming Ichabod” (p. 50). Think of your favorite places. Do they connect with a specific person or defining moment in your past?

7. It is frequently touched upon that Leo is the only gay and black person on Ichabod Island. How do you think the topics of race and sexuality were handled?

8. Discuss the accusations against Maggie’s husband, Pete (pp. 191), and their swift dismissal. Compare this situation to the national discussion around sexual assault and the #MeToo movement. Do you agree with Agnes’s decision to send a compromising photo of Pete with another woman to the newspaper?

9. At what point in the novel did you realize who Sky’s birth parents really are? Were you surprised? Did you notice any similarities between the three that tipped you off?

10.When Frankie and Sky walk around in the dark, Sky often feels that someone is watching them. After finding out the mystery painter’s true identity, do you think there is a biological connection that causes Sky to have these senses?

11. Consider the number of characters on the serene Ichabod Island who are in turmoil but constantly put on a happy face. Why do you think that is? Do you think the community would be better off if more members spoke their truths?

12. Discuss the title and what you think “my kind of people” means in relation to the people on and off Ichabod Island. What does this mean to you personally?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Consider reading Lisa Duffy’s previous novels, The Salt House and This Is Home, with your book club. Discuss any themes that are similar to those in My Kind of People.

2. Sky becomes an orphan for the second time when her adoptive parents die in a car accident. Review this article from KidsHealth about helping children to cope with the death of a parent: https://www.kidshealth.org.nz/helping-child-cope-death-parent. Discuss the ways in which the adults (and Frankie) adequately help Sky grieve her parents.

3. The characters on Ichabod Island are interrelated in many ways: Maggie was Leo’s schoolteacher. Joe did work on Brian and Ann’s house. Leo is Sky’s biological father. Make a My Kind of People chart about the connections in your own communities and share with the group.

A Conversation with Lisa Duffy

Q: Congratulations on publishing your third novel, My Kind of People! What was the inspiration behind the story? Did you find it easier, having written two novels before this?

A: I wrote a short story years ago about a middle-aged married couple who come home after a session with a marriage counselor and find themselves spontaneously in bed together, but unfortunately instead of a passionate tryst, they have this awkward, cringeworthy moment that goes horribly wrong. I knew I wanted to explore these two characters in a novel, but I wanted that scene to be the jumping off point. When I started writing more about this couple—what they did for work, where they lived, and who they interacted with—the story began to evolve, and I found myself writing about people on one street who become intimately involved in each other’s lives when their young neighbor is suddenly orphaned.

As far as it getting easier, I’d say no, but there is a sense of confidence that grows with each finished project. I learn something new about my process with each book, and I sort of know the ups and downs that I’ll experience with wrestling with a first draft. Once the first draft is done, the real fun begins for me. I love revising and shaping the book into its final form.

Q: Throughout My Kind of People, we quickly become acquainted with the labels in this community that deem its members either insiders or outsiders. Was this something you wanted to write about?

A: I’m fascinated by the idea of belonging—what it means to some people and how we construct that in our lives. It was something I wanted to explore through these characters with the current conversation about immigration and who belongs where and why and how a piece of land can be at the center of it all.

Q: Relationships between the islanders (in all forms) are central to the novel. Was there one relationship in particular that you felt most compelled by?

A: I’d say I’m compelled by every relationship that doesn’t get cut from the novel in the draft process. There is such satisfaction in digging as deep as I can into every relationship, so by the end, I don’t have any favorites. Each character, and how they relate to other people in the novel, holds an equal space in my mind and in my heart.

Q: Was there a particular place you had in mind while setting the scene? What inspired you to name the Island Ichabod?

A: Ichabod was loosely inspired by the New England islands—Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, Block Island to some degree. Places rich in history with a year-round population and a robust summer crowd.

There wasn’t one specific inspiration for the name of the island. I was looking for something that would ring true as a man’s first name when the island was first discovered, but also something that just felt right. Naming locations and characters is almost something innate—the name needs to feel as if it’s essential to the story. My husband actually came up with Ichabod when we were out on our boat one day, just relaxing in the sun and talking about the book. The minute he said it, I knew it was perfect. And as I soon as I typed it in the manuscript, I had a clearer sense of the island.

Q: Ichabod is an idyllic setting full of characters experiencing emotional hardship. Was this contrast intentional? Did you begin writing the story with a specific outcome in mind?

A: I knew when I first started the draft that Ichabod would play a certain role in the novel. It’s certainly idyllic for some characters. For others, it’s a refuge. And for one character, it’s a place he’d rather leave behind. It was intentional that all of these characters would have very strong feelings about Ichabod because I think to live year-round on an island requires a certain dedication to that way of life. It requires adjusting to taking a ferry to get off the island and dealing with crowds in the summer and shops and restaurants closing in the winter. So, for some, the hardships they are facing are in direct contrast to how they feel about Ichabod—that it’s a place of peace and beauty and belonging. For others, the hardship is the island itself—the emotions it stirs inside of them and the desire to be part of something that’s really just out of reach.

Q: Several characters are artistically inclined. What artistic mediums (aside from writing) do you think play a role in healing emotional wounds?

A: I think any medium or activity that pushes you to a deeper level of self-awareness has the ability to heal. To find joy and purpose in an activity that requires you to tune-in rather than tune out. It’s one of the reasons I thought the epigraph in the novel was fitting: “I shut my eyes in order to see.” A quote from Paul Gauguin. Everything he needs to create as an artist is inside of him. In a lot of ways, this translates to the characters in the novel, who each have to find their own way by looking inward as opposed to looking outward.

Q: Can you tell us what the title means to you in relation to the story?

A: In relation to the story, the title highlights how little we can actually know about someone by only an outward appearance. It’s a statement made about a couple who seem to have it all, yet behind closed doors, they are struggling with things like addiction and mental health. On a larger scale, the title challenges some of the individual belief systems in the novel—hopefully reinforcing the idea that we can always find a point of connection with each other even if we don’t look the same or think a certain way or adhere to a particular way of life

Q: What do you hope readers take away from the novel?

A: My hope is always the same. That my readers will enjoy the time they spend with these characters and this story.
Photograph by Sharona Jacobs

Lisa Duffy is the author of The Salt House, named by Real Simple as a Best Book of the Month upon its June release and one of Bustle’s 17 Best Debut Novels by Women in 2017, and This is Home, a favorite book club pick. Lisa received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts. Her writing can be found in numerous publications, including Writer’s Digest. She lives in the Boston area with her husband and three children. My Kind of People is her third novel.

More books from this author: Lisa Duffy