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My Kind of People

A Novel

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.

Chapter 1 1
In the hours before dawn, she slips out of the house and runs. She knows the way by heart, even though she’s only ten, and the land swells around her like the mother’s bosom she never knew.

She follows the path that winds near the cliff, the edge nipping at her feet, threatening to swallow her whole. Spit her out on the rocky shore below.

She left the men sleeping.

Xavier passed out on the couch, but Leo roamed the house all night, as though he knew she might leave. Even stood over her bed once while she pretended to sleep, her back to him, his shadow on the wall looming through her half-lidded eyes.

When she finally heard his breathing, slow and deep from the other room, she left. Silently and swiftly, even though the night was soundless and black. She was good at that. Disappearing in the cracks between light and sound.

The wind licks her ankles. Spray from the water below clings to her hair, coats her legs and arms in the icy Atlantic.

She pauses on the cliff above the ocean. Her foot tingles, ready to step. But the night grips her body, presses against her until she’s flattened, as though she’s a leaf pressed between pages, the darkness sandwiching her in place.

She thought it would be easy.

Simple even. To step into nothing. To sail off the earth just like her parents had done, the wind taking her breath, filling the emptiness inside her body.

But Ichabod Island won’t let her.

When her toes touch the edge of the granite rock, the island stirs. The trees bend. The wind howls and the ocean roars and the lighthouse glares until she turns and runs, her feet pounding the dirt path through the woods.

When the sun finds her later in a wooden house high in the trees, safely away from the cliff, sound asleep on a bed of feathers, she doesn’t stir. She doesn’t feel the day rise above her. The cloudless sky peering down with its bright yellow eye.

She sleeps soundly. On her own. Just like she should be. Just like she came into the world.

Nobody knows she’s gone. The men don’t know she ran away. When they find out, they’ll ask why. Over and over, they’ll ask why.

She won’t have an answer. She never does.

She’s not even sure there is one.
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.

“Lisa Duffy’s My Kind of People will fill you with hope and a renewed sense of resilience, which we could all use a bit more of right now.”
—PopSugar

"Big Little Lies meets Celeste Ng!"
—Motherly

"My Kind of People is a powerful, endearing story about the life-altering moments that can shatter our reality—and the lengths the people who love us will go to put us back together. This multi-generational tale shows off Lisa Duffy’s true talent for capturing voice and making her readers feel every emotion right along with her characters. This is the perfect story for book clubs and best friends to read together. Lisa Duffy’s writing positively shines."
—Kristy Woodson Harvey, bestselling author of Slightly South of Simple

"There's a beautiful thing that happens, as if by magic, midway through every Lisa Duffy novel: I blink awake to the world around me and realize I've been transported, transformed, and utterly invested in the lives of characters who feel like friends. My Kind of People is indeed filled with *my* kind of people: layered, conflicted, underestimated souls who are deeply impacted by one another as their lives intersect and entwine. A moving story of healing, resilience, and every imaginable type of love—between neighbors, parents, spouses, surrogates, and new and old friends—finding a way."
—Jessica Strawser, bestselling author of Not That I Could Tell

“Duffy’s story is sweet but never cloying, and she’s unafraid to depict uncomfortable circumstances as the tale unfolds. My Kind of People is an emotionally complex tale that leaves some threads dangling—much like life—but still comes to a satisfying and hopeful conclusion.”
BookPage

“The secrets and scandals are realistic, avoiding over-the-top drama in favor of thoughtful, poignant stories from a grieving community. Fans of Emilie Richards and Patti Callahan Henry will be drawn to this heartwarming tale.” 
Booklist

"Lisa Duffy writes with wisdom and empathy about an endearingly authentic cast of characters. In disarmingly spare prose, she tells a moving story about family, marriage, and community, and the challenge of knowing when to break ties and when to come together. Don't let the summery island setting fool you - this is a beach read with substance and heart."
—Karen Dukess, author of The Last Book Party

"Authentic characters resonate throughout this engrossing novel. . . . Intensely real and deeply emotional, Duffy’s rich novel is worth savoring from the very first page."
Publishers Weekly, starred review

“A beautifully drawn portrait of a motherless girl and a rudderless woman both trying to find their place in the world— but who find each other instead. Lisa Duffy nails the complexities of modern relationships, and proves that she’s a storyteller that’s here to stay.”
—Colleen Oakley, author of Close Enough to Touch and Before I Go

"Lisa Duffy’s latest novel, a story of joy and struggle in a coastal New England town, is full of engaging characters you’ll remember long after you turn the final page. This Is Home reveals the truth of human nature, which seeks to heal and forgive those we love, even when they break our hearts."
—Sandi Ward, author of Something Worth Saving

“Duffy's latest is a novel of family, friendship, and the meaning of home… Also touching on such topics as post-traumatic stress disorder, military service, and addiction, This Is Home makes a great addition to any family life or women's fiction collection.”
Booklist

"Lisa Duffy’s beautiful novel delves into that most elemental of themes—home—with insight and grace. This is a book to savor."
—Kimmery Martin, author of The Queen of Hearts

"This phenomenal novel reveals such unique and endearing characters struggling through upheaval and loss in order to forge the true shape of their family. They face each day with humor, grit, and vulnerability that draws the reader in. Libby, Quinn, Bent, and even the world’s smelliest dog rush to life on these pages and have carved out a place for themselves forever in my imagination. Building on her emotional debut novel, this book solidifies Duffy as a master of writing hope into heartbreak."
—Devin Murphy, national bestselling author of The Boat Runner and Tiny Americans

More books from this author: Lisa Duffy