Penguin.com (usa)

Reading Guides

Dearest Dorothy, Are We There Yet?
Charlene Baumbich
Paperback
$13.00
add to cart
Read more...

Dearest Dorothy, Slow Down, You're Wearing Us Out!
Charlene Baumbich
Paperback
$14.00
add to cart
Read more...

Dearest Dorothy, Help! I've Lost Myself!
Charlene Baumbich
Paperback
Other formats:
ePub eBook: eBook
$13.00
add to cart
Read more...

Dearest Dorothy, Who Would Have Ever Thought?!
Charlene Baumbich
Paperback
Other formats:
ePub eBook: eBook
$13.00
add to cart
Read more...

Dearest Dorothy, Merry Everything!
Charlene Baumbich
Paperback
Other formats:
ePub eBook: eBook
$15.00
add to cart
Read more...

Dearest Dorothy, If Not Now, When?
Charlene Baumbich
Paperback
Other formats:
ePub eBook: eBook
$14.00
add to cart
Read more...

 

AN INTRODUCTION TO CHARLENE ANN BAUMBICH'S DEAREST DOROTHY SERIES

It would be easy to say "Welcome to Partonville." But a far better orientation for this little circle-the-square town in southern Illinois is coming up the road. See that dust cloud yonder? That's Dorothy; or, as folks around here are fond of saying, Dearest Dorothy, coming into town from her beloved Crooked Creek Farm. Dorothy Wetstra—that's like "wet straw," only without the "w" at the end—is an eighty-seven-year-old oldster (as she calls herself) who serves as Partonville's ambassador to the rest of the world. You might want to take a step away from the curb—once Dorothy climbs behind the wheel of her 1976 Lincoln, The Tank, the only thing that can stop her is a brick wall. Or maybe a garbage truck. Anyway, armed with her faith in The Big Guy (the one upstairs, as it were) and a positive attitude seasoned by her nearly ninety years in this small town, Dorothy is a walking wonder. Retired bandleader, genuine firecracker, and perpetual cheerleader, Dorothy is brimming with life. And, oh, what a life.

INTRODUCTION TO DEAREST DOROTHY, ARE WE THERE YET?

Dorothy is wrestling with a dilemma. Like a lot of sleepy towns across America, Partonville is decidedly behind the times. The old clock in the square has been stuck at 1:14 since anyone can remember, and everyone, it seems, is over the hill. What could Partonville possibly offer a young person? Over in Hethrow, though, progress is in the air. And the only thing standing between Hethrow's sprawl and the sleepy town of Partonville is Dorothy's ancestral home, Crooked Creek Farm. A developer is breathing down her neck and needs a decision soon. Should she sell the home she inherited from her mother: the home where Dorothy was conceived and born, where her three children were conceived and born, and where her precious daughter took her last breath? With no clear answer in sight, Dorothy does what she does every single day—talks to her Lord and asks for guidance.

But guidance comes in an odd package: one Ms. Katie Durbin, a businesswoman from Chicago, arrives in Partonville—where her mother was born and raised before moving to the city—in order to deal with a recently departed aunt's estate. Rather than an estate, though, Katie finds a mountain of mayhem her Aunt Tess has left behind.

As Dorothy becomes acquainted with Katie and her fifteen-year-old son, Josh, she realizes that The Big Guy can throw a mean curve ball. In settling her aunt's estate, Katie comes home to herself, dealing with long-buried grief and heartache, and eventually leads Dorothy to a new and unexpected homecoming of her own.

INTRODUCTION TO DEAREST DOROTHY, SLOW DOWN, YOU'RE WEARING US OUT!

So much to do. Dorothy has a house filled with almost nine decades' worth of memories to either get rid of or pack up and move into town. Saying good-bye to Crooked Creek Farm will be difficult. But that can come later; it's summer in Partonville and she doesn't move (at least officially) until the fall.

Besides, summer means crawdad hunting, crickets, and, most important of all, Dorothy's new friends Katie and Josh returning to Partonville for a few days. She must prepare for their arrival. Unfortunately, The Tank seems to have developed a cough. Or is it a wheeze? After giving it a good once-over, Arthur—who is the only mechanic Dorothy trusts—shouts, "Back 'er out." Dorothy obliges and unwittingly gives Katie, Josh, and Josh's best friend a welcome home they'll never forget. Taking God's cue, Dorothy realizes that it's time for her to become a pedestrian.

The decision to give up driving isn't easy—it feels like a huge loss of independence. But Dorothy's new home is close to everything she needs and everyone she loves—especially now that Katie and Josh plan to move from Chicago to Crooked Creek Farm. And this time she gets to decorate her own home from scratch, even painting the ceiling fire-engine red if she wants. As Dorothy begins the arduous process of liquidating her assets and moving into Partonville proper, she finds she can't do as much as she used to. Even the townsfolk and her own family begin to realize Dorothy's a bit more frail these days and encourage her to slow down. But old habits are as hard to break as The Tank's protective armor.

INTRODUCTION TO DEAREST DOROTHY, HELP! I'VE LOST MYSELF!

Gladys, acting mayor of Partonville, is on a tear. The fall celebration is just around the corner and there's more to do than can possibly be done—especially since Dorothy is conspicuously absent from the inaugural committee meeting. She has enough on her plate, with band practice and getting the talent show up and running. Besides, Arthur's presence at the meeting—due primarily to his being duped into attending by his wife, Jessie—draws attention away from Dorothy's absence. Not only is the festival in the works, but Gladys has decided to inject even more life into the town by announcing that a Centennial Plus 30 will coincide with the annual revelry. Meanwhile, Katie and Josh are having very real—but very different—identity crises. Popularity at his new school agrees with Josh—only it's not the same Josh who came to Partonville just a short time ago. Katie is equally confused: old letters she's unearthed show her mother and aunt communicating in an odd code. What can it mean? The mother Katie thought she knew is slowly becoming a stranger. And—even more perplexing—is it possible that Gladys actually has a heart? Secrets of the past find themselves aired in the present as Partonville erupts in whispers and almost unheard-of scandal. As usual, Dorothy finds herself right in the center of all the commotion. But once things calm down and traffic gets back to normal, Partonville finds itself, quite literally, catching up with time.

INTRODUCTION TO DEAREST DOROTHY, WHO WOULD HAVE EVER THOUGHT?

A familiar chill fills the crisp air of Partonville. It’s the season of food, family, houseguests, and, above all, being thankful. With the Pumpkin Festival and Centennial Plus 30 behind them, Dorothy Westra and the citizens of Partonville turn their eyes to Thanksgiving. Even with worn-out backs, new love interests, morning sickness, lofty business ventures, and the impassioned fallout of a bygone courtship, they’re preparing for a Partonville-wide feast that requires everyone to pitch in. It’s sure to take a lot of work and a little unselfishness, prompting Dorothy to recall that "if we extend generosity to anyone, it’s the same as if we’ve extended it to Jesus." But is success possible without Gladys in her usual take-charge role? And with no vacancy at the motel, can poor Jessica be expected to cook, especially since she can’t even hold down a saltine?

As the big day approaches, Katie Durbin (wrestling with a few unexpected houseguests of her own) is cooking up a surprise worthy of her "Development Diva" moniker. She sees the potential of a bona-fide tourist destination in Partonville. But it’s a more personal sort of development that excites Katie even more: the town she once dubbed boring reveals itself as the home she never expected.

With loved ones returning for the holiday, memories both precious and dear intermingle with heavenly aromas from the piping hot Thanksgiving banquet. Everyone knows Partonville has plenty to be thankful for, including a celebration that is twofold: Happy Birthday, Dearest Dorothy—and pass the pie!

INTRODUCTION TO DEAREST DOROTHY, MERRY EVERYTHING!

With the hubbub of Thanksgiving over, Dorothy Wetstra is in the lap of luxury surrounded by family and relishing the news that her son Jacob is home for an extended stay. Even in a town where time seems to stand still, Christmas—always a big to-do around these parts—is just around the corner. But Partonville receives a hard blow as death again steals away with one of its own.

Amid their grief, Partonville’s citizens aren’t quick to shift their focus to merriment. And anyway, who would host the annual Happy Hookers’ Christmas party now that Dorothy’s moved to such a small house? Surely not that city slicker Katie Durbin, the one who snatched up Dorothy’s beloved Crooked Creek farm. Besides, would anyone even show up now that Katie’s land deals and mini-mall project have local businessfolk seeing red?

But Dorothy, armed with her Faith and impromptu pom-poms, reminds everyone that a party is the perfect spirit lifter. Plus, the occasion might help her show everyone how wonderful Katie really is. So with a little good cheer and even better fellowship, Partonville opens its circle-the-square heart to Christmas. There’s even a bit of mistletoe magic glinting in the eyes of young and old. For Dorothy, though, the big news is that a certain Partonville native might be coming home to roost—an early Christmas present sure to make Dorothy give thanks where thanks is due: to the Big Guy himself. So Merry Everything, Dearest Dorothy—and a happy new year!

INTRODUCTION TO DEAREST DOROTHY, IF NOT NOW, WHEN?

Though Valentine’s Day is long gone from Partonville, romance is still in the air. A teenage couple steals goodnight kisses. Two lovebirds who thought it was too late find their match. The same can’t be said, however, for Jacob Wetstra as he tries for some sparks of his own.

But not all the residents of this circle-the-square town are in Cupid’s sights. A battle for the mayor’s office has some residents launching a few political arrows of their own. What a rotten time for dissent—Katie Durbin’s mini mall is about to put Partonville back on the map. But even the excitement of Katie’s mall-naming contest can’t compete with this juicy political story. No matter what the citizens of Partonville end up calling it, this mini mall could spell trouble—especially with Katie still buying up land left and right. Does Gladys, the acting mayor, have Partonville’s best interest at heart if she supports Katie’s plans?

The answer comes when Dorothy Wetstra, Partonville’s favorite cheerleader, takes a side. But has the town become too divided for even Dorothy’s prayers and enthusiasm to mend? As happens in life, it sometimes takes an outsider to remind folks just how good they have it. But who is this stranger and will he be too late? It’s all about timing, Dearest Dorothy—and God’s timing is always perfect!

 

ABOUT CHARLENE ANN BAUMBICH

Charlene Ann Baumbich

Charlene Ann Baumbich is the author of the previous three books in the Partonville series. A popular speaker, journalist, and author, for several years she has lectured to women’s groups and retreats. Baumbich is also an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Today’s Christian Woman, and numerous other publications. She is the author of six nonfiction books of humor and inspiration.

 

A CONVERSATION WITH CHARLENE ANN BAUMBICH

You've recently done quite a bit of touring. In your travels, have you found your books strike a chord not limited to geographic region? Where have you been most surprised to find a fan base?

I guess one of the biggest and most delightful (and celebrated!) surprises was to be embraced in the deeper South as a Southern writer, especially since I've lived in the Chicago suburbs all my life and Partonville is only as far south as the "northern part of southern Illinois," which, at least to my way of thinking, is decidedly the Midwest. But regardless of geographical locations—from the Dakotas, to the Deep South, to the East Coast, to Washington—readers tell me via e-mails and store appearances that I've nailed life in their town, or one that they used to live in or their grandmother lives in now. They are identifying more with the spirit of small-town life rather than its actual geographical location. One far-from-the-state-of-Partonville lady told me she was sure I'd written about her town. She also said she had to admit to liking the folks in Partonville better, though. I laughed out loud at that one!

What especially blesses me, however, is when someone takes the time to tell me a detailed story out of their past, something Partonville reminded them of, reawakened within them. Readers have shared some of the most precious, intimate, and hilarious moments of their lives with me. It's humbling, really, and I hold their stories very close.

Partonville is a wonderful exploration of small-town America. Were you raised in a small town?

Although I've never lived in a town as small as Partonville (population about 1,500), through endless visits to relatives and dear friends I've grown familiar with the dynamics of small-town life. And I've been that visitor who took someone else's stool at the counter (or unofficially "reserved" seat on the commuter train into the city!), the one driving the unfamiliar vehicle that makes everyone curious: Who are you and what are you doing in our town? I've also been that outsider kindly embraced into the fold, whether at a weekend retreat, into a church body or at a gathering of women or men who do lunch. Who I was raised by, I believe, is more important than where I was raised when it comes to small-town hospitalities: I was raised by parents who were inviting and accepting. A smile, a plate of fried chicken, and several rounds of storytelling were always more important than who you were or where you came from, the dust on your shoes, or your reputation.

Since I was a little girl, I guess you might say I've been a curious student of behavior. I've always loved people-watching, thinking about the lives in the houses behind the front porches. It's my observation that people everywhere, even in large metropolitan areas, share the same need to feel connected. I believe it was Frederick Buechner who said that the story of any one of us is the story of us all. I think if you honor true emotions in a story, no matter what size the town, you'll strike a familiar cord that resonates deep within people, tapping into a loneliness or wish, joy, or fear, and stirs our need for a sense of community.

If there's one thing to be said for Dorothy Wetstra, it's that her faith can surely move mountains (of mayhem and otherwise). How does your faith compare with Dorothy's? Is she a role model created entirely from your own mind or is she a re-creation of a faithful child of God you've encountered in your own life?

How does my faith compare to Dorothy Jean Wetstra's? I aspire to be Dorothy when I grow up, and one of the main reasons is because her default mode is to go straight to the Big Guy, whether it be to praise, wail, question, or duke it out. She trusts that God can take it and will respond with perfect love and timing for her life. Her faith-filled eyes give her endless hope and an exuberant kindness; she looks for the best in people, even those with whom she finds herself at odds. One of my favorite things about her faith is that when the wheels seem to fall off, she asks God to remind her about what she already knows, what she's already heard God say and promise.

It would be fair to say there are similarities in our faith: we both trust God and understand how huge is God's grace and mercy. (Honestly, if it weren't for grace and mercy, I have no doubt I would have been smote about a gabillion times by now!) Of course there was a real Dorothy in my life—rather I should say there still is since her memory is a blessing forever and I continue to feel her hands on my shoulders all the way from heaven. She did have a strong faith. But Dorothy Wetstra's faith is an eclectic blend made up of kind men and women I've known, wizened older folks I continue to seek out, sons and daughters of God who never forget their own Childness of God, who see more than is being said, pray for you before you've asked (and faithfully remember to do so when you do ask), don't take themselves too seriously, and definitely enjoy God's sense of humor.

How have Dorothy and the other residents of Partonville changed your outlook on aging?

Since I am a keen observer of behaviors, let me say I've witnessed many ways to age. Some oldsters have been graceful, and grace filled every step of the aging process; others have been perfect models of negativity, always focusing on what's wrong rather than what's right, what they don't have rather than what they do; how they used to do it compared to "those kids today." Ironically, perhaps those folks have taught me the most, which is to magnify for me what I don't want to be.

One of my best friends has quite a few years on me. She is active, spunky, age-appropriately stylish, involved in her church, a woman with a true servant's heart, one who models a keen interest in the arts, and she loves her God. She loves to laugh, as did the real Dorothy. As did my mother, whom I lost when she was only fifty-six and I was thirty. Up until my mom's early death, she aged—inside and out—gracefully. Laughter and the giving of love keep a heart young and merry. My mom was warm and kind and kept her priorities in order. Since the older I get the more I look like my mom, I find my own physical aging process fascinating. I will continue to look in the mirror to catch glimpses of what she might have looked like had she aged to . . . whatever age I might live long enough to be. And I am always inspired by intergenerational relationships. Always.

Having said all of this, I see that rather than Partonville folks modeling something to me about aging, I'd say they are the voice of what I've already seen modeled in my life, and that is that aging is what you decide it will be. If you spend all your time fretting about vanities and complaining about everything, aging will be about vanities and negativity. If you spend your time seeking to shine God's Light into the world no matter what your circumstances, then your aging will be about Light.

Dorothy says, "God is a God of constant surprises." Do you think faith is important for "going with the flow" and adjusting to the ever-changing world?

Since God is the only sovereign thing on which I can truly rely, my faith in God and God's ability to make sense out of the senseless is the only way I know to go with the flow and enjoy the ride!

Dorothy's penchant for speed and erratic driving seems unusually authentic. If you don't mind, how is your own driving record?

I've been driving for more than four decades. (As of this writing, I'm heading toward fifty-nine.) I only have one speeding ticket to my name and that was acquired about thirty-five years ago. Although I do like to take off fast and need to feel a car kick into passing gear when I put my foot on it (and I mean now!), have owned two motorcycles (ridden horses in barrel races), and still am jazzed by the sound of a big engine (Harley-Davidson or any other engine that goes vroooom-vroooom, rumble-rumble!), I'm oddly not a huge speeder. My mom, however, was often driving on her limit of tickets; my dad enjoyed the wind in his face. Both of my sons own motorcycles, the oldest definitely enjoying any experience—engine-related or not—that goes fast, whether it be driving, skateboarding, snowboarding, bicycling, etc. We all love(d) to feel the power. Feel the "edge" of . . . whatever. It's in our genes, I guess. And the real Dorothy . . . yikes! She scared the living daylights out of me when she drove everywhere fast . . . even in reverse! Her unapologetic and complete explanation to me as to why she had a dent in her house in front of where she parked her car was "That was the last time I bought a car with turbo charge."

Your depictions of nature reveal a love for the land. Are you outdoorsy at all?

I love the outdoors (unless it's too hot and then I'm a hopeless whiner). I see beauty in straight rows of corn, which I learned to appreciate when my grandfather, a farmer, pointed them out as he slowly drove down the hard road observing such things. I love the sounds of a creek, wind in Ponderosa pine trees, the whir of hummingbird wings, the moo of a cow, the happy chirp of crickets, and the goose-bumpedy strains of mourning doves and coyote howls. I oooo and ahhhh at sunsets and sunrises, comets and sparkling rocks, falling leaves and the pattern of ice on a window because my parents were always saying, Look at that! Listen to that! Ain't that perty? (my dad's unique expression). I am sensory loaded, nerve endings automatically honing in on the tiniest detail of a flower and the vast grandeur of the mountains. I cannot help but inhale the fragrant scent of petunias (Yes, they do smell. Try it!), horse sweat, freshly mowed fields, and puppy breath. Each of these things is such a pure and free gift.

After raising two sons, you are able to capture the confusion and angst present in many teenage boys. Does writing from a boy's point of view give you any trouble?

None. I didn't try to think like a teenage boy; whatever rings true about that was just there. I'm not sure what that says about me, but it's the truth. Like I've said, I'm a keen observer. But maybe I didn't have trouble writing like a boy because as a girl, I never did understand tea parties where friends would drink air tea when they could just go get a soda. I much preferred crawdad hunts and worm forts (I do not recommend putting swimming pools in them—not pretty) to dolls and lace. But now, as a "fully growed woman," as my grandmother would have described it, don't even think about messing with my earrings or lip gloss or I'll slam-dunk you! (Just kidding. About the lip gloss. Maybe.)

What are you working on now?

I'm currently working on number five in the Dearest Dorothy series, then I'll be working on my next nonfiction, which is a topic I've been speaking on since 1991, "Don't Miss Your Life!"

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

DEAREST DOROTHY, ARE WE THERE YET?

  1. Katie finds herself regretting using her stylish wardrobe and accessories to make sure Partonvillers know she's not one of them. Can you think of a time when "putting on airs" seemed like a good idea but backfired? How important a skill is relating to people on their own terms and turf?

  2. Dorothy's faith is her nearest and dearest possession. Does her fear of giving up what's familiar show a weakness in her faith?

  3. As is common in small towns, the residents of Partonville gather for a meal after Tess's funeral. Do you think living in a tight-knit community fosters a healthier view of death and dying? Or do funerals and wakes make for uncomfortable and inappropriate chances to socialize?

  4. Maggie Malone makes quite a stir at the Happy Hookers meeting with her new tattoo. Do you think the other women's shock and surprise might be just what fuels Maggie to try new things? If her behavior were ignored, would she be as likely to be so adventuresome?

  5. Katie questions whether or not God uses unsuspecting—and maybe nonbelieving—bystanders in His works. Does God limit His actions to the faithful? Or is all of creation part of His plan?

  6. Josh seems mesmerized by Dorothy. Is the so-called generation gap really the result of young people being "different" nowadays? Or is Dorothy's willingness to share young people's interests—not to mention her youthful spirit and even her Internet savvy—the key to bridging it?

DEAREST DOROTHY, SLOW DOWN, YOU'RE WEARING US OUT!

  1. Dorothy certainly believes in the power of prayer. She's also an accomplished cheerleader. Can you see any similarities between the two, such as the constant focus on positive change? Do you find yourself praying in times of bounty as well as in times of trial?

  2. Is there a mandatory age at which seniors should give up their drivers' licenses? Should exceptions be made for residents of rural areas versus those who reside in more developed urban areas?

  3. One could make the case that giving up the farm will take some of the strain off Dorothy's heart. But isn't it possible that all the hubbub involved in selling it might just be doing more harm than good?

  4. Katie finds, for the first time, a true friend in Partonville. Is Jessica more infatuated with the idea of having a city-slicker friend than with truly getting to know Katie? Is motherhood a strong enough bond for these two very different women?

  5. Josh brings his best friend, Alex, to Partonville. Do you think their friendship will survive Josh's moving out of Chicago? If the boys weren't attending different schools already, would their friendship have a better or worse chance?

  6. There's an immediate clash between Dorothy's family and Katie. Are the bad feelings really rooted in the possibility that Katie is ripping off Dorothy? Or are there other factors at play?

DEAREST DOROTHY, HELP! I'VE LOST MYSELF!

  1. Gladys's cantankerous façade seems to be showing cracks. Do you think her stern attitude is a result of deeper psychological issues? Does she take her position as acting mayor too far?
     
  2. Josh realizes he's getting a little big for his britches. Can you recall being put in your place? Were you grateful? Is the emphasis on being "popular" damaging to children?
     
  3. Dorothy takes a cricket's chirp to be a sign from God. Have you ever asked for a sign from God that was granted? If it were as subtle as a cricket's chirp, would you even notice?
     
  4. Katie gets a bit angry when Dorothy keeps talking about God. Is it better to witness to people in turmoil or to let them find the peace of prayer on their own?
     
  5. Dorothy prays and prays about whether or not to tell Katie the truth about her past. Do you agree with her decision?
     
  6. Do you agree that the secret Katie discovers about her mother should be shared with the residents of Partonville? Will it help her fellow townsfolk to accept her?

DEAREST DOROTHY, WHO WOULD HAVE EVER THOUGHT?

  1. Josh has mixed feelings about spending Thanksgiving with his father. He makes the very grown-up observation that life is "complicated for everybody." Do you have experience with children rotating holidays between divorced parents? How do you feel about the way people handle it in Partonville?
     
  2. A startup publication called BackRoads Illinois gives Partonville the change to get itself on the off-the-beaten-path map, so to speak. Straying from the interstate and heading off the beaten path often leads to memorable vacation moments. What interesting sights and situations might you have missed if you had stuck to the obvious route? Have you ever happened upon a town reminiscent of Partonville during your journeys? If so, what did you think about it?
     
  3. Holidays can be a difficult time for anyone feeling lonely. What special holiday memories do you have of opening your heart or home to those less fortunate? Do you think offering people uncomfortable with "charity" a chance to participate in the festivities (like Lester) is a good way to lift their spirits? How do you feel when offered something you might consider to be charity?
     
  4. Jessie and Arthur go through a bit of a bad patch. Do you think it’s important for people to take "breaks" from one another? How do you think Vera and Herman egged on the situation? What could have been done differently that might have minimized the embarrassment everyone felt?
     
  5. Dorothy is thrilled that Nellie Ruth has found a good-hearted man who thinks she hung the moon. Her relationship with ES is still in the early, somewhat secretive stages. Do you recall a courtship you kept secret for a little while? What romantic tactics did you employ to keep your relationship out of the spotlight? Do you wish you could have kept that "what if we get caught" spark alive? Or, better yet, do you have a secret for doing so?
     
  6. Katie now has something in common with scores of Americans: a Turkey Disaster (but at least she remembered to remove the giblets). Do you have one of your own? Have you attended a holiday dinner where the turkey—or what was left of it—was the main topic of conversation? Did the cook handle her- or himself gracefully? Would you be able to laugh off your own kitchen catastrophe?

DEAREST DOROTHY, MERRY EVERYTHING!

  1. After letting her sixteen-year-old son Josh take a road trip alone, Katie nearly worries herself to death when he’s late returning. Think of times in your life when you were as worried about someone not showing up as Katie was about Josh. When everything turned out okay, was it anger or relief that won out in the end? If Katie had come to you and asked your advice on whether or not to let Josh take the trip, what would you say to her?

  2. Dorothy and Jacob have a wonderful time reminiscing about the contents of a few boxes still unpacked after her move. Can you think back to a time when you and a loved one went through a “rainy day” box? What long-lost treasures have you found lurking in closets or old cedar chests?

  3. Partonville’s citizens seem to take one step forward and two steps back where their trust in Katie Durbin is concerned. What experiences have you had being an outsider? In what ways have such experiences altered the way you treat a newcomer to your neighborhood or office?

  4. Jacob gets a bit wistful when he notices there are no young people to be found around the square. A lot of small towns wrestle with this problem and try to think of ways to encourage young people to stay. If you were on a planning commission for a small town, what strategies would you employ? What resistance to changing the status quo would you expect? Did you settle in, or even return to, your hometown? Why or why not?

  5. When Pastor Delbert finishes a silent prayer, Dorothy, for a second, seems to be a mouthpiece for God. What similar experiences—a prayer answered more obviously than usual—can you recall? Did the answer come as a relief or as a bit unsettling?

  6. Oftentimes, we get caught up in the trappings of holidays rather than in the true spirit of the season—even ending up in a “100 percent tizzy.” Dorothy, for example, is nervous about having to downsize her Christmas tree. What are the things you simply cannot do without during the holidays—a favorite ornament, an heirloom decoration? Are all of these things really necessary for enjoying the holiday? Now imagine one of them being taken away. Which would be easiest to part with?

  7. Several characters in this book are in the early stages of a courtship—some in their sixties and some barely sixteen. What are the similarities in the way these new romances are playing out? What are the differences?

DEAREST DOROTHY, IF NOT NOW, WHEN?

  1. Imagine you’re one of Partonville’s mayoral candidates. How would you have handled the race differently? Do you think you would have been able to defend yourself in front of the whole town with more success than Gladys? Now imagine if you were running for mayor of the town where you live. What changes would you make? What would you choose as your campaign slogan?

  2. Jacob, like Katie before him, has trouble adapting to small-town life after living in a large city. Explore some of the differences between living in a city and living in a small town. Specifically, how would the attorney/client relationship be different? Do you think it would be more difficult for a “city slicker” to get used to small-town life? Or would the reverse present more challenges? Why?

  3. Josh is having some trouble with his driving again. Should his uncle have kept the traffic stop to himself? Would you have done the same? Discuss times you or people you knew thought they were getting away with something, only to get caught later. What did you think about Katie’s reaction?

  4. Even though she needs to keep quiet about her business deals, what could Katie do differently in order to convince the townsfolk that she’s one of them?

  5. If you were given space in Katie’s mini mall, what type of store would you open? Consider that whatever store you choose would benefit from synergy with the shops that already exist.

  6. It seems that living in Partonville nearly guarantees you’re going to have a catastrophe while entertaining. Recall some instances when you’d rather have kept the door closed when guests arrived. How did you handle the situation? Have you ever been on the other side of that door about to walk into a disastrous evening?

  7. Timing is everything in this novel. Recall some events when timing—good or bad—made all the difference in the world to you. In the good instances, was it your own timing or do you believe there was a higher power involved?