This reading group guide for The Thick and the Lean 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. Introduction In Lambda Award finalist Chana Porter’s highly anticipated new novel, an aspiring chef, a cyberthief, and a kitchen maid each break free of a society that wants to constrain them.
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In the quaint religious town of Seagate, abstaining from food brings one closer to God.
But Beatrice Bolano is hungry. She craves the forbidden: butter, flambé, marzipan. As Seagate takes increasingly extreme measures to regulate every calorie its citizens consume, Beatrice must make a choice: give up her secret passion for cooking or leave the only community she has known.
Elsewhere, Reiko Rimando has left her modest roots for a college tech scholarship in the big city. A flawless student, she is set up for success . . . until her school pulls her funding, leaving her to face either a mountain of debt or a humiliating return home. But Reiko is done being at the mercy of the system. She forges a third path—outside of the law.
With the guidance of a mysterious cookbook written by a kitchen maid centuries ago, Beatrice and Reiko each grasp for a life of freedom—something more easily imagined than achieved in a world dominated by catastrophic corporate greed.
A startling fable of the entwined perils of capitalism, body politics, and the stigmas women face for appetites of every kind, Chana Porter’s profound new novel explores the reclamation of pleasure as a revolutionary act. Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. In chapter 1, Beatrice enters Lina’s store and discovers The Kitchen Girl
by Ijo for the first time. Throughout the book, we not only see several characters interact with it but eventually get to read passages from it. What do you think the significance of The Kitchen Girl
is to each of the main characters?
2. “Everyone knew the most effective way to feel the depth of God’s divine love was to fall in love, as relationships were containers for spiritual development. Yet Beatrice had never felt anything close to love.” [p.17]
How does this idea shape Beatrice’s views on love and intimacy? In what ways does it impact her romantic pursuits?
3. Reiko and Beatrice come from two vastly different backgrounds. Despite this, they both struggle with self-discovery. In what ways are their journeys similar? How do they differ?
4. In this world, food is considered taboo, while sex is not. Why do you think the author decided to switch the perception of these two things? What does it say about our society’s existing views on sex and food?
5. Reiko opens up to Agata by sharing, “I was lonely both at home in the Bastian and here. I’ve never felt welcome anywhere.” [p.63] How does the loneliness Reiko feels inform her decisions over the course of the story?
6. Upon Reiko finding out her scholarship is revoked and that this is a regular occurrence among other students in similar financial situations, she starts making her livelihood outside of the law. Her experience highlights an inequality that is often perpetuated through capitalism. What are other instances of the negative impacts of capitalism in the novel?
7. In part 1, Beatrice invites Georgina over to her house to celebrate Martyr Day, where she reveals her secret. Did you think it was wise for Beatrice to share this information? What did you think of Georgina’s reaction?
8. “I never had the burden of beauty” [p.119] is a phrase repeated a few times throughout the story. What is your interpretation of this quote? Do you agree that beauty can be a burden?
9. What was your impression of Father Alvarez? Were you surprised when he showed up at the restaurant on Beatrice’s birthday? Did your perception of him change over time?
10. Towards the end of the book Beatrice and Claudia/Reiko meet for the first time. What were your thoughts on their interaction? Reflect on their journeys leading up to that moment and how much each of them has grown since the beginning of the book.
11. Identity, liberation, and shame are reoccurring themes in The Thick and the Lean
. How do these themes manifest themselves within Porter’s cast of characters?
12. Why do you think Claudia decides to mass-send digital copies of The Kitchen Girl
at the end of the novel? What do you predict happens after she sends them out? Enhance Your Book Club
1. Food plays a huge role in this novel. Plan a potluck with your book club members and each bring your favorite dish.
2. Beatrice is an aspiring chef always working out new ways to make food. As a group, create a brand-new recipe and cook it together.
3. Although the story primarily follows Beatrice, Reiko, and Ijo, there is a whole secondary cast of characters they encounter. If you could pick any other character for the story to follow, who would it be? Discuss why you chose that character.