THEBOOKENDS with Pam & Becky

Leopard at the Door
By: Jennifer McVeigh

Rachel returns to her family’s home in Kenya after escaping her banishment to England after the death of her mother. She has been away for six long years and yearns for Africa and all she knew. She returns in the midst of a very unsettled political climate, with the Mau Mau secret society fighting for change in the country. Rachel will have to overcome painful memories, try to rebuild her relationship with her father, and gain acceptance from the woman who replaced her mother in the home.

Pam: It took a couple of chapters to pull me into this story, but then I found myself engrossed in this book. This author made me have very strong emotions about the characters in this story and I frequently fought the urge to call you and vent about a couple of them! Did you feel strongly about the many characters in this book?

Becky: We are on the same page with our opinions of this book. It slowly lulled me into the story and then I couldn’t put it down. The author did an amazing job giving life to each character. I loved some, hated others and had genuine concern during this story. Rachel was easy to like and I felt a great deal of empathy for her situation. She is returning home expecting to fall back into the life she had six years ago and put closure on the loss of her mother. Sadly, life has moved on in Kenya and her distant father does not create a healthy homecoming for her. What did you think about this father figure?

Pam: I was so frustrated by Rachel’s father! She returned home hoping to find a familiar place in her family’s home. However, when she arrived, she found a very different environment. Her father has opened his home to another woman and her son. She makes it clear from the first introduction that she is in charge and Rachel is not welcome in this changed home. I felt that Rachel’s father was torn between loyalties and continued to hope that he would be what Rachel needed him to be. Do you feel that this new woman was at fault for the change in the home? Or do you feel that it was also caused by the unsettled climate of their country?

Becky: It would be a combination of both but I think the sole responsibility lies with her father. He should have been committed to his daughter regardless of his new romantic involvement. Although they were distant, he also had responsibility to inform Rachel of the reality of the hostile environment before she returned. Do you think that the author painted a vivid picture of the volatile situation in Kenya?

Pam: I do feel that the author painted a vivid picture. This changing climate and violence was contrasted with the stubborn insistence from the land owners in the area that everything was fine and all would quickly return to their normal. This was clear in the behavior of her father’s new partner, Sara. She was determined to throw a big party to celebrate the coronation of the queen of England, although the threat of violence surrounded them. I felt that Rachel’s father would certainly speak up at this point. Were you surprised by the absurdity of this situation?

Becky: I think this is part of the reason that I liked this author’s style so much. The characters were interesting and had depth. Sara’s desire to have a party during such a dangerous time was ridiculous. Yet, I love that it spoke to how unconnected she was to the country she was living in. Those details make average characters more interesting. Her desire to ignore what was going on outside of the walls of her home was baffling. Rachel is equally as interesting and unrealistic about the dangers as she crosses some boundaries with some of her father’s employees. Did you find her to be naive or was she still living in the past when it wasn’t life threatening to be friendly to the locals?

Pam: I felt that Rachel was continuing relationships she had when she was younger. This may be considered to be living in the past, since this was what her life (and her relationships) was like when her mother was alive. I don’t think she was being naive, but hopeful that these connections could still exist among the turbulence around her. I think your comment about Rachel and Sara being unrealistic about the surrounding dangers is very accurate. In their own ways (completely opposite from each other), they are trying to create their own realities in the midst of changing ways. Rachel reconnects with a young man that served as her tutor when she was younger. How did you feel about this relationship? Was it one that you hoped Rachel would continue?

Becky: Inside my head I was screaming for Rachel to stop. Without disclosing too much, this was a complicated situation for several reasons. She is only about eighteen years old, isolated and searching for comfort and he was part of the past she was desperately trying to resuscitate. Did I want it to happen? No, but it was a natural progression in the story. There is some very interesting information on the authors website, www.jennifermcveigh.com, that I highly recommend.
I would enjoy discussing this further but as you can see, we are running out of space. Join us next month as we discuss, The Ghostwriter, by Alessandra Torre.

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