5 reviews

The Virgin of Small Plains: A Novel
by Nancy Pickard

Published: 2007-05-29
Paperback : 368 pages
7 members reading this now
21 clubs reading this now
9 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 5 of 5 members
Small Plains, Kansas, January 23, 1987: In the midst of a deadly blizzard, eighteen-year-old Rex Shellenberger scours his fatherâ??s pasture, looking for helpless newborn calves. Then he makes a shocking discovery: the naked, frozen body of a teenage girl, her skin as white as the snow ...
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Small Plains, Kansas, January 23, 1987: In the midst of a deadly blizzard, eighteen-year-old Rex Shellenberger scours his fatherâ??s pasture, looking for helpless newborn calves. Then he makes a shocking discovery: the naked, frozen body of a teenage girl, her skin as white as the snow around her. Even dead, she is the most beautiful girl heâ??s ever seen. It is a moment that will forever change his life and the lives of everyone around him. The mysterious dead girlâ??the â??Virgin of Small Plainsâ?â??inspires local reverence. In the two decades following her death, strange miracles visit those who faithfully tend to her grave; some even believe that her spirit can cure deadly illnesses. Slowly, word of the legend spreads.

But what really happened in that snow-covered field? Why did young Mitch Newquist disappear the day after the Virginâ??s body was found, leaving behind his distraught girlfriend, Abby Reynolds? Why do the townâ??s three most powerful menâ??Dr. Quentin Reynolds, former sheriff Nathan Shellenberger, and Judge, Tom Newquistâ??all seem to be hiding the details of that night?

Seventeen years later, when Mitch suddenly returns to Small Plains, simmering tensions come to a head, ghosts that had long slumbered whisper anew, and the secrets that some wish would stay buried rise again from the grave of the Virgin. Abbyâ??never having resolved her feelings for Mitchâ??is now determined to uncover exactly what happened so many years ago to tear their lives apart.

Three families and three friends, their worlds inexorably altered in the course of one night, must confront the ever-unfolding consequences in award-winning author Nancy Pickardâ??s remarkable novel of suspense. Wonderfully written and utterly absorbing, The Virgin of Small Plains is about the loss of faith, trust, and innocence . . . and the possibility of redemption.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.


Chapter One

January 23, 2004

Abby Reynolds braked her truck on the icy highway, startled by what she imagined she saw off to the side of the road. That can’t be, she thought, as she squinted into the snow, trying to see more clearly. When the wind blew an opening in the blizzard, Abby realized that it was not a hallucination. It was not an impossible illusion sketched on the early morning air by the gusting snow. It was . . . good grief! . . . it was Nadine Newquist in a bathrobe, surrounded by swirling white, struggling through drifts on the old cemetery road, as if she were determined to visit a particular grave on this particular morning. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the publisher:

1. The Virgin of Small Plains is your eighteeenth novel, but the first you’ve set in your home state of Kansas. Why have you waited until now? What challenges presented themselves in writing about an area and community so close to home?

2. What inspired you to write this story? Was the genesis of The Virgin of Small Plains significantly different from the ideas that spawned your previous books?

3. What about the development of the novel? Did this book present any unique challenges?

4. The action shuttles back and forth in time, altnerately charting the events that lead to and follow from the Virgin’s death in 1987 and the repercussions still simmering seventeen years later. Why did you choose to braid the two narratives in this way? Was it difficult to keep your timelines straight?

5. How carefully do you map the plots of your books before setting down to write? Do your characters sometimes surprise you?

6. Did you find it hard to adopt and sustain the perspectives and voices of multiple narrators in The Virgin of Small Plains? Were certain characters more readily accessible to you than others?

7. You really capture the rhythms of adolescent thought, from Rex’s sexual frustrations to Abby’s heartbreak. Did you base their travails on your own experiences? On those of anyone you know?

8. You never expressly tip your hat to divine intervention in The Virgin of Small Plains, but there are indications throughout the text that some higher power may be at play–even though the story carefully supplies more plausible explanations for seemingly extraordinary events. (Case in point: The climactic car crash, which evokes the clockwork precision of a deus ex machina but at the same time seems like an natural narrative development.) Do you believe in the supernatural or spiritual?

9. The subplot involving Catie Washington both complements and nicely counters the murder mystery at the heart of The Virgin of Small Plains. Did you specifically conceive this character and her story to vary the tone of the book, or did they evolve organically from the story?

10. The twister that dominates the central passage of the novel alters not only the town of Small Plains but also the shape of the action unfolding there: Abby sees Mitch again; Catie’s faith is providentially confirmed; and the reader is properly introduced to Jeff Newquist, a pivotal minor character. How did you hit upon the idea of this perfect storm, so to speak?

11. You’ve achieved success and acclaim as an author of mysteries. Have you always been interested in that genre?
12. How did you launch your career?

13. As many reviewers noted, The Virgin of Small Plains transcends the parameters of that genre. Do you feel that this book delves into new territory for you as a writer?
14. What are you working on next?

15. It must be asked: Have you ever experienced a tornado firsthand?

Suggested by Members

go to Nancy Pickard's website to pick up discussion questions and an interview with the author on this book.
by rtlibrary (see profile) 07/24/09

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

A note from Nancy Pickard:

I love novels about ordinary people to whom extraordinary things happen. I

love reading about people who've known each other for a lifetime. I love

stories with mystery, romance, suspense, family saga, small town life,

beautiful or dramatic landscape, and a touch of the mystical. And so, since

the two best pieces of advice a writer ever gets are "Write what you know,"

and "Write what you love to read," I'm writing about the state I know best,

Kansas, and filling it with the story elements I love best, too.

I'm always interested to hear real-life and fictional tales about people

whose lives were interrupted, early on, by other people's misdeeds. How do

the innocent bystanders of those misdeeds ever get their lives back when

somebody shoots them off track? Will they live forever after in bitterness,

or will they find some way to retrieve their own dreams?

The Virgin of Small Plains, my first standalone novel and my first one set

entirely in Kansas, has all those elements. I hope that when a reader

closes the last page of it she will feel the kind of satisfaction I

experience when I finish a book that has characters I love and don't want to

leave. I hope she has most of her questions answered in ways that feel

right to her, and that she has a sense of this landscape as being a subtly

beautiful and mysterious place to live, where you never know what's going to

happen next.

With warmest regards,

Nancy Pickard

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "This was a fast paced read."by Jennifer W. (see profile) 08/27/07

This book has sympathetic characters and an interesting plot. It gets tied up in the end a little too neatly, but that doesn't stop you enjoying it while you read.

  "Excellent Mystery With Boring First Chapter"by ELIZABETH V. (see profile) 07/01/16

For the most part, THE VIRGIN OF SMALL PLAINS is an excellent mystery, the kind readers will be anxious to keep reading. It is a murder mystery, yes, but as the best mysteries are, this book... (read more)

  "Suspenseful!"by Kim K. (see profile) 04/03/12

I discovered this author about a year ago when I read her ‘Scent of Rain and Lightning’. It was one of my best reads of 2010, so I wanted to try her again.

This is a murder-mystery wi

... (read more)

  "A great read"by Tammy H. (see profile) 05/15/10

Our bookclub loved this one. A great read and a great discussion

  "Really good read"by Cindy C. (see profile) 01/04/10

  "Virgin of Small Plains"by Michele R. (see profile) 07/24/09

A quick, engaging read with elements of a mystery,romance and ghost story set in Kansas. Everyone in our group liked it and would recommend it.

  "Enjoyed it - an interesting and easy read"by Gail M. (see profile) 10/18/08

All members enjoyed the book and rated it a '3'.

There were many characters and the development was good by the author. Story of 3 families and how their lives were changed forever by th

... (read more)

  "Shocking discoveries, long-held secrets: while you may not re-read this book, it holds the readers interest until the very end."by Susan M. (see profile) 05/05/08

As fans of Pickard's Jenny Cain Series, we were curious about this "novel of suspense." This title has been selected by the Kansas Center for the Book as a Notable Book and also will be the title in the... (read more)

  "Great mystery...didn't want to put it down!"by Joanne L. (see profile) 04/03/08

After reading some of the reviews I was a little concerned that this book wasn't going to offer much beyond a mystery but I am pleased to share that I was pleasantly surprised! Pickard had a way of making... (read more)

  "Great story--very suspenseful--the writer definitely keeps you going"by Donna C. (see profile) 04/03/08

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