Questions for the Virgin

We can start with “is she really a virgin?”

But let’s back up a bit. This year’s Kansas Reads selection was Nancy Pickard’s standalone suspense novel, The Virgin of Small Plains.

Twenty readers crowded into the meeting room to share opinions, thoughts, and musings on the third annual state-wide reading title. And it was a lively discussion. The novel is set in the rural Kansas town of Small Plains. For almost twenty years, travelers have made pilgrimages to the grave of the “Virgin,” an unidentified woman who was murdered on the open prairie during a snow storm. She was never claimed by her family and the residents of Small Plains buried her in a hilltop grave. Only a few residents know the young woman’s identity and how she died and they have never revealed what they know. Now, almost twenty years later, a woman abandoned by her high school sweetheart is beginning to ask questions. A man cast out by his family has returned for vengeance. And the folks with all the answers are coming together to make certain the truth is never revealed.

Readers immediately wanted to talk about the characters and felt there were some who were more guilty for past actions than others. Mitch, the prodigal son, was certainly the most tragic figure in the novel, said one reader. He did absolutely nothing wrong and paid the greatest price for the crimes of others. Another reader pointed out that Abby was much too bitter and idealistic. Still another felt there were some plot holes that needed filling.

All the readers enjoyed talking about the descriptions of the land and agreed it had a special sense of place. After some debate, the attendees felt that it really was a Kansas story that couldn’t take place in any other state.

Other issues up for discussion included redemption and which characters find it, the complex relationships all the characters had with the unidentified “virgin,” and how well the author captured the advantages and drawbacks to living in a small town.

This is an astute crowd of readers and, as usual, I come away with an entirely different perception of what I was supposed to discuss.

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About the Author:

Kaite Mediatore Stover refuses to give up her day job as director of readers' services for The Kansas City Public Library to read tarot cards professionally or be the merch girl/roadie for her husband's numerous bands. Follow her on Twitter at @MarianLiberryan.

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