*If you are new here, WELCOME! For Ordinary Grace, I provide your book club with a brief summary, food ideas, and discussion questions in that order!
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger has been floating around as a potential read for me for some time. Like many of you, my TBR list is quiet long.
After reading This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger earlier this year, I moved Ordinary Grace up that list and I’m so glad I did.
Just like This Tender Land, Ordinary Grace has a young male narrator, but Ordinary Grace differs in that it isn’t an adventure story. It’s a story about a community that fractures when tragedy strikes, but ultimately finds redemption.
It’s a coming-of-age story for Frank Drum and his younger brother, Jake, as they witness the adults in their lives respond to tragedy and try to process their own feelings.
While This Tender Land reminded me of Peace Like a River (both great books you should read if you haven’t!). Ordinary Grace reminded me of To Kill A Mockingbird. In Ordinary Grace, the narrator is male and the father figure is a preacher instead of a lawyer, but the same grappling with injustice and tragedy is present.
The novel is set in 1961 and offers that more innocent feel of America when kids roamed the community freely and times seemed simpler. Still, when tragedy strikes the small town of New Bremen, prejudices, struggles with faith, and questions about justice surface. These two contrasts make this both a feel-good story and a serious book club read.
I truly loved this book and will probably reread it in the future (not something I do often). There is plenty to discuss about Ordinary Grace and it’s also a fairly fast-paced story that will have you turning pages. If you’re like me and you love a coming-of-age set in a small community, the novel is definitely a win-win for your book club.
On that note, I’ve provided book club questions and food ideas for Ordinary Grace, so if you are looking for ideas for your book club meeting, keep reading!
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Here’s a brief summary of Ordinary Grace:
In the quiet town of New Bremen, Minnesota, the summer of 1961 seems full of promise. For the Drum family, including Mr. Drum the town’s Methodist minister, they couldn’t be more proud of Julliard-bound Ariel.
Frank Drum’s plans for the summer include the typical antics of every teenage boy. Then, tragedy strikes the community. As death visits in the form of accident, suicide, and murder, dark secrets about the adults in Frank’s life are exposed and he’s forced to suddenly mature in a world that’s falling apart around him.
Told from Frank’s perspective forty years later, this moving novel counts the cost of wisdom and marvels at the grace of God in the face of tragedy.
For the Ordinary Grace Food Ideas:
I really loved how William Kent Krueger included so many midwestern dishes in this book. All of the pot lucks and Sunday dinners reminded me of my childhood.
For your book club meeting, there are plenty of food ideas from the pages of Ordinary Grace. You can pick one or many. Consider hosting a pot luck for the meeting with dishes from the book or with favorites of your own!
Here are a few food ideas from the pages of Ordinary Grace:
- Chapter 3 – A root beer at Halderson’s drugstore
- Chapter 4 – Saturday night hamburgers, milkshakes and potato chips with an occasional salad
- Chapter 5 – The Drums deliver tuna casserole and jello salad to Mrs. Klement after she misses church
- Chapter 6 – Frank’s father returns to a cold supper of browned hamburger and Franco-American spaghetti after looking for Mr. Klement
- Chapter 8 – Frank’s grandfather and Liz come over for a dinner of roasted chicken, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and asparagus
- Chapter 11 – Ariel, Frank, and Jake spend the day with Emil and Lise – dinner of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, buttered carrots and baked squash
- Chapter 15 – Father Peter comes over and they eat broasted chicken, French fries and coleslaw from the Wagon Wheel Drive-in
- Chapter 16 – Ariel relates Emil’s change in outlook – lunch of fried bologna sandwiches, chips, and Cherry Kool-aid
- Chapter 17 – The Fourth of July celebration – cotton candy, bratwurst, hot dogs, mini donuts, homemade pickles and baked goods
- Chapter 19 – After the disappearance – cold cereal with banana slices
- Chapter 30 – Gus takes the boys riding and then fixes them supper – Spam and eggs with cheddar, fried potatoes, and beer
- Chapter 35 – After the funeral – Ham, fried chicken, au gratin potatoes, green bean casserole, salads, rolls, cookies, desserts, lemonade and Kool-aid
As you can see, there are a lot of options. Perhaps you have your own midwestern dish that you’d like to cook as well. If you are looking for food suggestions for Ordinary Grace, I think your book club will have no trouble finding something to create with this list!
Ordinary Grace Book Club Questions:
*WARNING: May contain spoilers!
- Frank is only thirteen when the bulk of the novel takes place. Do you like novels with young narrators? Why or why not? Why do you think Frank was Krueger’s choice for the narrator? How would the story have changed if Jake, Gus, Mr. Drum, etc. was the narrator instead?
- Frank and Jake are allowed relative freedom to do what they please and to follow adults into mature situations, even after Ariel’s disappearance. Children in present times are often shielded from many of the things Frank and Jake experienced. In what ways did their experiences benefit them and in what ways do you think it was detrimental? Discuss your own experiences with autonomy as a child. How did they compare to Frank’s and Jake’s?
- When a tragedy occurs, often an entire community is affected. Sometimes it’s an extended family or a school or a church. In Ordinary Grace, it is the actual community of New Bremen. Discuss how Ariel’s disappearance resulted in secondary tragedies that touched other lives in the community besides the Drums (i.e. Warren Redstone, Morris Engdahl, the O’Keefe family, Karl Brandt, and others).
- Did you think Mrs. Drum was still in love with Emil? Was Emil still in love with her? How did the ending affect your opinion?
- Frank and others make many hypotheses of what happened to Ariel, before the truth is learned. Who did you think was responsible for her disappearance? Was there anyone who seemed suspicious to you but ended up having nothing to do with her disappearance?
- Emil and Lise both carry heavy burdens. They are beautiful, but hurting individuals. Discuss the roles they played in Ariel’s life. Did you pity them?
- Jake is a boy who is wise beyond his years. Why do you think Jake understood things Frank could not? Why do you think he continued to see Lise until her death?
- Discuss the ways each character deals with Ariel’s tragedy in light of their faith. Contrast Mr. Drum’s sermon to his wife’s response. Why do you think that Jake’s prayer had such a profound effect on them all?
- Gus is an interesting character. If you’ve had a Gus in your life, you know how important they can be. Consider how a close family friend helped you understand your own parents or a difficult situation in your life. Discuss how Gus did this for Frank and Jake and how his quiet kindness throughout the book was itself a type of ordinary grace.
- Who was your favorite character in the book? What was your favorite scene? If you’ve read any other William Kent Krueger books, how did this one rank for you?
Have you read Ordinary Grace? What did you think? Did it satisfy you or were you left wishing for more? What are some similar books you’ve read?
Until next time, Happy Reading!
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