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Henderson House Discussion Guide

  1. While much of Henderson House is fiction, the fact that the three main characters are all working women is taken directly from my family history. The strong working women in my lineage have always inspired me, and I'm pretty sure they are one of the reasons my father was so supportive of his four daughters pursuing their own careers!

    In the first three chapters, we meet Mrs. Henderson, Bessie, and Florence at work: Mrs. H at the boardinghouse, Bessie in the copy room at Phillips Petroleum, and Florence at Linn Brothers. Did this strike you as extraordinary? I
    n 1940 only 28% of women worked outside the home. This number grew to over 34% by 1945 due to women entering the labor force in record numbers during WWII. What impact do work and career goals have on the characters and story in Henderson House?

    Do you have any examples of working women in your family history? Any stories about women breaking down barriers in the workplace? How do you think those stories have impacted you?


  2. At one point, Bessie says, "Family stories sure are powerful, aren’t they? We tell the same ones over and over again. They’re not always funny.” Does your family have stories they tell over and over again? Are there any that poke fun at you in particular? Do you think those stories are funny or do they ever bother you a little? 

    Mrs. Henderson replies to Bessie saying, “Bessie, dear, it’s probably not my place to say this, but sometimes I think your sister is a little jealous of you and she likes to repeat family stories that don’t paint you in a very flattering light.” Why do you think Florence might be jealous of Bessie? 

  3. Eddie describes Bessie as "the glue" in the family. Eddie is the storyteller, Florence is the planner, and Bessie is the glue, the one holding everything together. Do you and your siblings or relatives have specific roles you play in your family dynamic? Is it ever hard to break out of those roles?

  4. Each of the three main characters in Henderson House has a different style of internal dialog. Mrs. Henderson talks to her dog, Louie, and listens to the house, Bessie prays for guidance, and Florence has conversations with herself. How do these three distinct styles of "self-talk" help define each character? Who do you talk to when you talk to yourself?

  5. Why do you think Bessie decides to ask Mrs. Henderson to teach her how to cook? What do you think this represents? Have you ever decided to learn something new? What impact did it have on your confidence?

  6. Mrs. Henderson says, "That’s my old recipe file, stuffed with hundreds of cards. I haven’t opened it in years. Now, what I can’t make by heart, I make by feel.” What kind of cook are you? Do you follow recipes or wing in? What's a recipe you can make by heart? What's one you make by feel?

  7. What do you think Mr. Linn's next steps might be to reign in Sonny's behavior? There's a terrific clip from The Shop Around the Corner (1940) when Margaret Sullivan's character comes right out and describes sexual harassment in the workplace to Jimmy Stewart. It's a wonder this made it past the Hollywood censors. Click to view the clip on YouTube. And it's an excellent testimony to the sexual harassment of "shop girls" in the 1940s. Oh, and this film was the inspiration for You've Got Mail (1998) — in case you were looking for a great double feature!

  8. Many people who read Henderson House love the kitchen ladies at the church. Do they remind you of anyone you know? Why?

  9. The Blackwell family lives a life estranged from their Cherokee heritage and their upbringing in Indian Territory. Why do you think this is the case? 

  10. The menfolk—Eddie, Johnny, Frank, and Professor Albert Rutledge—play various supporting roles in the story. Do you have a favorite? Why?

  11. When Bessie realizes what Florence has done to push Frank away, she has a renewed determination. On her walk with Florence to find Frank, Bessie says, "Blood pumps through my veins. My legs feel strong and sure. A thick canopy of leaves shimmers bright green against the deep blue sky of early evening. Picket fences gleam as if freshly painted and over-stuffed window boxes glow yellow, red, and orange with new blooms. The world is awake and so am I." Have you ever experienced a moment of clarity like that, when everything appeared crisp and new? What was the catalyst?

  12. What do you make of the ending?

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