The Summer Kitchen Discussion Questions: Lisa Wingate


1. In The Summer Kitchen, Sandra seems to regret having given up some of the dreams she held as a young woman.  At forty-nine, she feels that she hasn’t achieved all she wanted to.  Do you think we all feel this, in some sense?  What is your greatest achievement?  Your greatest regret?



2. Even though, at first, Cass resents Kiki and Opal being in the apartment, she takes Opal under her wing and becomes a parental figure, to the best of her ability.  Why do you think she does this?


3. When Sandra sees the children in the Dumpster, she initially fails to recognize their needs, and when she does recognize them she tries to convince herself to leave them to social agencies.  Why does she react this way?  What barriers prevent us from recognizing the needs of the people around us, or from doing something bold to address them?  Do you think one person can make a difference?



4. In a family riddled with substance abuse, Poppy and Aunt Ruth provided an island of safety and security for Sandra.  If not for them, what sort of life might Sandra have led?  Do you think people are shaped more by inborn personality or by environment?  How has your history shaped you as a person?


5. As the relationship between Cass and Sandra develops, Cass recognizes that she was fortunate to have had a mother who “loved her more than anything.”   Even though her upbringing lacked the financial comforts of Sandra’s, what gifts has Cass been given that Sandra lacks?  How do these gifts help Cass survive in a difficult situation?



6. Cass repeatedly struggles with whether to share the sandwiches and other food with Angel, Ronnie, and Boo.  Why does she hesitate?  Why does she eventually decide to hand over the food?


7. Sandra recognizes some of her own insecurities in Christopher.  Do you think we inadvertently pass our own insecurities and hang-ups down to our children?  In what ways?  Have you experienced that in your own life?


8. After only a week of working in the café, Holly is ready to take on the project, yet Sandra is still hesitant.  Why do you think it’s so much harder for her to make the commitment than it is for Holly?



9. In thinking about the family she has created with Rob, Sandra eventually wonders if she might have “fixed the moon” too many times.  Do you think it’s possible to cripple the ones we love by making life too perfect, too easy?  What benefits do we derive from struggle and hardship as we’re growing up?



10. In some ways, Poppy’s unexpected death serves as a catalyst for change in Sandra’s family and in the neighborhood around Poppy’s house.  If not for Poppy’s death, do you think Jake would have ever been honest with his parents about his desire to teach?  Would Sandra have branched out in life to do something totally unexpected?  Would Christopher have admitted his true feelings about their perfection-centered household?



11. Sandra and Rob’s household is in many ways typical of modern households in which families deal with busy schedules, high expectations, and performance pressure.  Does a drive to succeed in life and to raise successful children always lead to undue pressure, resentment, or disconnection between reality and expectation?  Is it possible to balance “keeping up with the Jonses” with being real with each other?  If so, how can we go about doing this?


12. Rusty and Cass are in some ways heroic and in some ways tragic characters.  What do you think Rusty’s future should hold?  What should Cass’s future hold?  In a perfect world, where would the two of them end up?


13. Cass wishes she were older and Sandra wishes she were younger.  Why do we often have such a hard time living in the moment and being happy where we are?  Was there ever a time in your life when you felt you were in just the right place?




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