Judy Alexander is available to speak to book clubs. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here's a Reader's Guide to facilitate discussion of Desert Medicine:
1. Is Laurelle the perfect mom she hopes to be? What does she do right? What did she do wrong? Can women still be good mothers even if they’re divorced, or are their children destined to be permanently damaged?
2. How does Chip differ from Rusty? How is he similar? If you marry the wrong person the first time, are you destined to make the same mistake again?
3. Is Rhoda dying of cancer, or does she have some other type of health issues? Does it matter?
4. Is Rhoda lying about her past? Why? If a mentor is dishonest about the facts of her own life, does that invalidate all of her lessons?
5. In what ways do Rhoda’s and Laurelle’s lives parallel? What do younger people gain when older generations share their stories?
6. Why does Rhoda’s first husband’s family not accept her? What are your options if you can’t find a sense of family within your biological family or among your in-laws?
7. How does Laurelle handle the neighbor boy, Coel? Is it wise for her to have him babysit?
8. Rhoda’s promiscuity might be caused by a lack of affection as a young girl. Does she regret her activities? Should she be heartsick over her sins, or has she long ago accepted God’s grace? How do you feel toward someone who is brutally honest about her mistakes, but not especially repentant?
9. Why does Tony allow his son to be abusive? What happens to a son if his mother dotes on him and his father neglects to discipline him? Is this is common problem in families that have tried of years to have children and have had multiple miscarriages? In what ways was Rhoda similar to Aunt Ione in the way she raised her son?
10. What is the significance of Laurelle’s sister’s illness? When Laurelle is at the hospital, she recalls her husband’s illnesses. What happens to the caregiver who suspects that a family member is being a hypochondriac, but then finds out that that person is truly ill?
11. What does Laurelle’s trip to Calexico accomplish? Have you ever tried to get to the truth, even if it meant a great inconvenience to you or your family? Did you find the answer you were looking for?
12. Who was Sherman’s mom? Why did people think that Rhoda was Sherman’s mom? How did she react to the great responsibility given to her at a young age in Calexico?
13. Rhoda did nothing about her son’s abuse toward his own family. Why did she take action when he abused Laurelle? Have you ever witnessed someone who accepted abuse toward herself, but refused to allow it to be inflicted upon someone else? Why hadn’t Rhoda dealt with her son’s selfishness and bullying earlier? What did this example teach Laurelle about motherhood?
14. How do you think Rhoda helped Laurelle deal with everyday life? Rhoda was earthy and plain-speaking about life’s troubles. Did this trait appeal to Laurelle or discomfort her? Did Laurelle become more straightforward herself?
15. Rhoda loved the Bible story of Esther, which was told to her over and over again by her grandmother. Why did she treasure that story?
16. Is Laurelle upset about the Christmas puppy given to the twins? How does she deal with this new addition to her household?
17. What precipitated Laurelle’s mom opening up about herself? When we’re more honest about our mistakes and hurts, how do our loved ones respond?
18. Why is Laurelle so disturbed to see her young daughter dressed in fancy clothes? Why does Laurelle shy from physical expressions of femininity? Does Laurelle ever dress up? Does she begin to embrace her femininity? How?
19. Is it a good life choice for Laurelle to work a day job as well as run her own side business in the evenings? How does she incorporate motherhood into her busy schedule? Does she use work to hide from her pain?
20. What are Laurelle’s religious views at the beginning of the book? What are they at the end? What does she have to give up in order to embrace a faith in Jesus?
21. How does Laurelle feel about Rhoda’s crochet work at the beginning of the novel? How does she feel at the end? What does this change signify?
22. Rhoda has had an interesting life. Why does she choose to share so many sad stories with Laurelle? Is Laurelle a good listener? With all the pain that Rhoda has suffered, is she bitter? Why or why not?
23. What is the relationship between Pastor Mark and Laurelle? Are the feelings mutual? What is the appropriate protocol for dealing with an attraction between an unmarried pastor and a parishioner?
24. Is this novel too gritty to be sold as a “Christian” novel? Do Rhoda’s stories seem “Old Testament” in her honesty about violence and sex?
25. Pastor Mark is divorced. Should a divorced person be a minister? Why or why not?
26. Tony’s point of view is never revealed. What do you think he feels about Rhoda’s past? Rhoda’s cancer? Their son?
27. Rhoda has spent her whole life searching for a family. Does she finally
find one? Where?