When Camille and her two teenage daughters fled New Orleans for the island of Little Gale off the coast of Maine, the islanders were initially more suspicious than welcoming. Twenty-five years later, Camille’s Creole restaurant, The Little Gale Gumbo Café, has become an island staple—as has the legacy of her romance with islander Ben Haskell. Camille and Ben, along with their children, created a new family unit with a seemingly unbreakable bond. But when Ben is found unconscious in his home, next to the body of Camille’s estranged husband, old secrets and suspicions reemerge, and the family must reunite to hope for Ben’s survival. But as revelations come to the surface, so do long-held secrets that will test the limits and definitions of family.
ABOUT ERIKA MARKS
Erika Marks is a native New Englander who was raised in Maine and has worked as an illustrator, cake decorator, and carpenter. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband, a native New Orleanian, their two daughters, and their dog.
- From a young age, Dahlia and Josie see and react to their father Charles in very different ways, differences that bring conflict to the sisters’ relationship as they mature. Discuss the opposing views the sisters have of their parents’ marriage, and what impact those views have on how each sister secures—or rejects—love in their own lives.
- The themes of loyalty and betrayal go hand in hand in this book. As devoted and loyal as they are to one another, Dahlia and Josie both bear the weight of some potentially devastating secrets. At the end of the book, some secrets have been revealed, but some remain. Do you think it’s possible to live a life without secrets?
- Matthew feels a deep love for both sisters, but only romantic love for Dahlia, a feeling that has been allowed to grow due to his and Dahlia’s off-and-on affairs over the years. By the end of the book, do you believe that Matthew has come to accept that Dahlia will never love him as deeply as he loves her? Do you believe he will finally move on from her? Conversely, do you believe by the novel’s end that Josie has to come to accept that Matthew isn’t in love with her, and that she and Wayne will be able to move forward to strengthen their marriage?
- The cafe is as much a character in the book as the men and women who cook and dine there, eventually becoming a fixture on the island. In your own life, have you ever known a place like the Little Gale Gumbo Café that became a staple in your community? What about it made it so appealing to its customers? Was it only the food or something more?
- Much like Ben and Camille, Dahlia and Jack’s attraction is an unlikely—but undeniable—one. Even though Dahlia insists she doesn’t want the complications and risks of love, she can’t seem to get past her desire for Jack. What is it about Jack that makes him different in Dahlia’s eyes from all the other men she’s been with? What about him scares her so much that she works so hard to keep from letting him in?
- In obvious ways (climate, landscape) Maine and New Orleans couldn’t be more different—yet there are some similarities, such as a deep sense of history as well as a dependency on the fruits of their coastlines. At what point in the book do you think Camille and the sisters finally feel as if they are settled in their new home?
- For most of their lives, Josie is considered the fragile sister while Dahlia is believed to be the strong one. Do you agree with that assessment? If not, why?
- Both Josie and Dahlia are devoted to their mother, but see their roles as daughters very differently. While Josie feels a responsibility to protect her mother and help keep the peace with Charles, Dahlia is constantly encouraging Camille to stand up to him, much to Josie’s dismay. In your experience, have you observed similar situations among siblings?
- Charles spends most of the book as an arrogant bully who tries repeatedly to disrupt his wife and daughters’ new home until he is finally sent to prison for what everyone believes will be the rest of his life. But when he finally emerges, he is clearly a broken and bitterly subdued man. Did you feel any sympathy for him by the end of the book, and at any point, did you believe he might have the capacity for redemption?
- For much of the novel, Dahlia is at odds with many of the residents of Little Gale Island, from the time she is a rebellious teen up until she has a well-established business. Yet for all of her frequent grumblings of the island’s conservative and judgmental views of her, she never leaves. What, or who, do you think keeps her there?
- For all the anguish that Charles causes Camille, it might be hard to understand why she never divorces him. Why do you think she chooses not to legally end her marriage, even after she falls in love with Ben?
- The island ultimately provides a safe and nurturing environment for Ben and Camille’s children, but it could be argued that living remotely as they grew kept the sisters and Matthew from moving on in certain ways. In what ways do you think the island nurtured their emotional development, and in what ways did it inhibit it? In your own life, have you ever felt held back by a place or a person? What did you do to move forward?