Winter Institute

Winter Institute is amazing and what a joy it was to spend time with independent booksellers.  I was invited by my wonderful publisher, Scholastic (book fairs!  book clubs! Harry Potter! The Hunger Games!)  to join the party in Denver CO and talk about my first YA novel, The Secret Language of Sisters. My fellow authors were Sharon Robinson (great writer, daughter of Jackie, my mother's idol) and Derek Anderson (amazing artist and writer of picture books) and we celebrated the fact that writing for children (in my case teenagers) is a very special calling.  Their warmth and welcome into this new world for me made me feel so lucky.  On top of that, we were taken care of, introduced, and nurtured by Scholastic's inimitable Bess Braswell and Jennifer Abbots.

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The Lemon Orchard: Reading Group Guide

the-lemon-orchard-by-luanne-rice-paperback-mediumThe Lemon Orchard by Luanne Rice


(You can also download the reading group guide as a PDF here)

“They sat in the kitchen, Julia so lost in the tale that when he said the word suerte, ’luck,’ she could almost believe that he’d had it, called it forth, that they were five years in the past and their daughters both still with them.”

Five years ago, Julia’s life was shattered when her husband, Peter, and their only child, Jenny, died in a car crash not far from their Connecticut home. Julia’s grief is compounded by the fact that the police believe that Jenny—who was only sixteen and nursing her first broken heart—intentionally drove into a wall. After the initial shock, Julia took what solace she could in her work as a cultural anthropologist. “It had been her passion, to keep the dead alive through learning how they had behaved, where they had trekked in search of food, water, love” (p. 15). And now that Jenny is gone, Julia continually replays the memories of their time together, wondering if there was something she could have done to prevent the crash.

When her aunt and uncle take an extended trip to Ireland, Julia goes to stay at their beautiful Malibu home with her dog Bonnie. She has been a regular visitor to Casa Riley and its adjacent lemon orchard since childhood, but this is her first visit following the accident. Walking on the cliffs high above the beach, Julia experiences a fleeting moment when she thinks about how easy it would be to just let go and escape into the sea.

Although the Riley’s are away, someone else notices how close Julia walks to the precipice. Roberto is the latest in a long line of orchard managers, all of whom had come from Mexico seeking a better life. At first, Julia is uncomfortable with Roberto’s concern until she recognizes that he’s burdened by a sorrow of his own. She tells him about Jenny, and learns that Roberto, too, has lost a daughter. Since he is in the United States illegally, Roberto only reluctantly reveals more. Human traffickers called coyotes took Roberto, six–year–old Rosa, and a group of others from Mexico to Arizona through the Sonoran Desert. Roberto and Rosa were briefly separated just before he was picked up by the Border Patrol. When he was finally able to return to look for her, Rosa was gone.

Without resources, in constant fear of deportation, in desperation, Roberto gave her up for lost. But Julia feels there is reason for hope—and looking for Rosa makes Julia feel closer to Jenny. Soon, her burgeoning romance with Roberto awakens feelings she thought were gone forever. As Julia combs the Southwest for conclusive evidence of any sort, she discovers help in a most unexpected place. Meanwhile, Lion Cushing, the Rileys’ movie star neighbor and old family friend, watches the pair warily. “Lion wanted Julia and Roberto to be happy in their Casa love nest, but unions between educated women and the help never lasted” (p. 229).

A captivating tale of unexpected love as well as a nuanced and profoundly moving examination of one of our nation’s most controversial issues, The Lemon Orchard is one of bestselling author Luanne Rice’s most powerful and compelling novels.

About Luanne Rice

Luanne Rice is the New York Times bestselling author of thirty–one novels, twenty–two of them New York Times bestsellers. There are more than twenty–two million copies of her books in print. A native of Connecticut, she divides her time between New York City and Southern California.

A Conversation with Luanne Rice

Julia has always felt close to the Mexican people, in part, because of her Irish ancestor John Riley, who fought for Mexican independence. Was there a real John Riley?

John Riley was born in Galway, Ireland and immigrated to America through Mackinac, Michigan in 1843. He and other Irish immigrants, fleeing famine and oppression at home, took jobs as soldiers in the U.S. Army. He defected to Mexico to form the San Patricio Battalion with other Irish–born soldiers. He was young, idealistic, charismatic, and saw Mexico as being the “side of right.”

You write very empathetically about Julia’s desire to be an anthropologist. Is this a field you ever considered going into yourself?

I studied anthropology with Professor June Macklin at Connecticut College. She was a wonderful teacher and ignited my lifelong interest in the subject. I’ve remained fascinated with migration, the movements of people in search of, always, a better life: more food, less hardship, opportunity.

The novel powerfully evokes the tensions of life along the Mexico-United States border and the horrors faced by Mexicans trying to cross the desert illegally. Did you spend a lot of time there while researching and writing the book?

I visited the border several times but did most of my research in Los Angeles, getting to know a family who crossed the desert much the way Roberto and Rosa did.

Are there organizations like The Reunion Project and the Found Objects gallery that are working to help undocumented immigrants who are separated from loved ones during their journey across the border?

There are forensic anthropologists who study human remains found in the Sonoran desert, and there are many people working to help immigrants during and after their crossings.

While Roberto and Rosa’s story ends well, you share the stories of others that did not. Did you feel hesitant about including some of the more graphic details?

I wanted to tell the story in the truest possible way. I spoke to people who nearly died on the journey. Others saw death along the way. These stories affected me deeply. They are a part of our national history, shocking and real, happening right now.

Malibu and Boyle Heights may only be a short distance apart in terms of miles, but they couldn’t be more different. What inspired you to bring these two disparate worlds together?

Living in Los Angeles has shown me how these worlds merge. You see workers waiting along the roadside, hoping to be chosen for a day’s work. How can we not look beneath the surface and see them as people? Oscar Mondragon has done that. He runs the Malibu Labor Exchange out of a trailer near the Malibu City Hall and the public library. It’s a place where workers are matched with employers, treated with dignity and respect.

Handsome, charming, and delightfully self–centered, Lion Cushing is a character straight out of Hollywood’s Golden Era. What movie star or stars did you base him on?

Lion is inspired by the same friend upon whom I based Harrison Thaxter in The Silver Boat. But I also think of him as Peter O’Toole meets Albert Finney and fast–forwards to George Clooney.

Immigration reform is one of today’s most hotly debated issues. Where do you see The Lemon Orchard fitting into the discussion? 

I hope that readers will see immigration as a human story.

Whichever side of the issue one might be on, your novel humanizes both the would–be immigrants and the law–enforcement officials charged with patrolling the border. Was this your intention?

My intention was to write a good story with real characters. Black and white thinking—all good versus all bad—makes me uncomfortable. It’s easy to blame one side or one group, but how realistic is that? I try to take a gentle approach, with compassion, not automatically shut down to ideas that make me feel uneasy. Everyone has a point of view, everyone has a story.

Discussion Questions

1.Julia and Peter’s marriage was strained long before Jenny’s death, but Julia felt guilty about the impending divorce because Jenny wanted them to stay together. Is staying in a marriage for the sake of your children ever a good idea?

2.Do you think Jenny’s death was a suicide? If so, why might she have decided to take her father’s life as well as her own?

3.How do Lion’s feelings for Graciela change the way you feel about him?

4.Roberto chose to take Rosa with him on the difficult desert crossing rather than leave her behind to grow up without him. In hindsight, he realized that he had underestimated the dangers they would face. Do you sympathize with his decision? What would you have done in his place?

5.Julia loves her dog, Bonnie, all the more because Jenny loved her, too. And Roberto is overjoyed to find Rosa’s beloved doll at Found Objects because she belonged to Rosa. Is there an object that you cherish because it belonged to a lost loved one?

6.Jack Leary decides to help Julia because he understands that it’s her way of staying close to Jenny, but he comes to feel that his late wife, Louella, would approve of his mission. How might Roberto and Julia’s story have turned out if Jack hadn’t become involved?

7.Ronnie sends Jack on a wild–goose chase to Tucson, hoping that he won’t come back and learn the truth about Rosa. Is she right to mistrust him? Do you condone Ronnie’s decision to make Rosa “disappear” from the system?

8.The Lemon Orchard ends on an ambiguous note with Roberto and Rosa reunited and Julia returning to California alone. Do you think that Roberto and Julia’s story will end here, too?

9.There are many Cinderella stories about women who are “rescued” from their less privileged lives by wealthier men. And—even in the twenty first century—relationships like Julia and Roberto’s give many people pause. Why is it more socially acceptable for the man in a given couple to have a better education and more money than the woman?

10.Have you ever been involved with someone who came from a radically different socio–economic background than your own? How conscious were you of your differences?

11.America is the land of immigrants. Did Roberto’s experience resonate with what you know about your family’s journey to America?

12.What is your opinion on the United States’ current immigration policies? Do you think that most would–be immigrants have a clear picture of what life in the States is really like?

The Lemon Orchard In Paperback

The Lemon Orchard

The Lemon Orchard

A heartrending, timely love story of two people from seemingly different worlds—at once dramatic and romantic. Luanne Rice is the beloved author of twenty-two New York Times bestsellers. In The Lemon Orchard, one of her most moving and accomplished works yet, Rice gives us an affirming story about the redemptive power of compassion, set in the sea- and citrus-scented air of the breathtaking Santa Monica Mountains.It’s been five years since Julia’s daughter died. When she arrives to housesit at her uncle’s home in Malibu, she longs only for peace. But to her surprise, Julia becomes drawn to Roberto, the handsome man from Mexico who oversees the lemon orchard. When Roberto reveals his own heartbreak, Julia recognizes his pain, but their stories have one striking difference: Roberto’s daughter was lost—and never found. What ensues is a page-turning search across the U.S. and Mexican border and a captivating novel of love, both enduring and unexpected. “Entrancing.” —People (***)

"Rice’s fans will appreciate the evocative setting and unconventional romance, as well as the harrowing . . . depictions of border crossing and the fascinating parallels drawn between Julia’s research interests (she studies the Irish who arrived in America over a century ago) and modern-day Mexican immigrants." Publishers Weekly


Here is a note from Elizabeth Benedict: PageLines- what-my-mother-gave-me.jpg"I'm thrilled that Christy Turlington's fabulous organization EVERY MOTHER COUNTS chose WHAT MY MOTHER GAVE ME as its book club pick this week. Turlington writes about her favorite gift from her mother: 'While I am just grateful to still have my mother in my life, the gifts she gave me that mattered most were the ones she gave herself: Mothering my sisters and me, traveling the world and continuing her education. The fact that she was born in El Salvador provided me with an early connection to a larger world than the one I would have known otherwise...'  Shout out to Judith Hillman Paterson, Luanne Rice, Elinor Lipman, Caroline Leavitt, Karen Karbo, and all the other wonderful contributors to the anthology."

Liz edited and wrote for WHAT MY MOTHER GAVE ME.  My essay is Midnight Typing, about how my mother gave me the gift of...perhaps you'll read it.

I am touched by Christy Turlington's words about her favorite gifts from her mother, and about the important work she is doing. According to a story in The New York Times, the goal of her organization is to help "people understand that pregnancy and childbirth, even though it’s a joyous experience for so many women, really is a risky endeavor for millions of other women,” according to Erin Thornton, executive director, who happens to be expecting right now herself. “To this day, hundreds of thousands of women will die in pregnancy and childbirth, but 90 percent of those could be prevented just with basic, simple access to health care.”


Excerpt From The Lemon Orchard


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September 2012 Before dawn, the air smelled of lemons. Roberto slept in the small cabin in the grove in the Santa Monica Mountains, salt wind off the Pacific Ocean sweetening the scent of bitter fruit and filling his dreams with memories of home. He was back in Mexico before he’d come to the United States in search of goodness  for his family, in another huerto  de limones,  the lemon orchard buzzing with bees and  the voices of workers talking,  Rosa  playing  with  her doll Maria. Maria had sheer angel wings and Roberto’s grandmother had whispered to Rosa that she had magic powers and could fly.

Rosa wore her favorite dress, white with pink flowers, sewn by his grandmother. Roberto stood high on the ladder, taller in the dream than any real one would reach. From here he could see over the treetops, his gaze sweeping the valley toward Popocatépetl and iztaccíhuatl, the two snow-covered volcanic peaks to the west. His grandmother had told him the legend, that the mountains were lovers, the boy shielding the girl, and tall on his ladder Roberto felt stronger than anyone, and he heard his daughter talking to her doll. In dream magic, his basket spilling over with lemons, he slid down the tree and lifted Rosa into his arms.  She was five, with laughing brown eyes and cascades of dark curls, and she slung her skinny arm around his neck and pressed her face into his shoulder. In the dream he was wise and knew there was no better life, no greater  goodness, than  what  they already  had.  He held her and promised nothing bad would ever happen to her, and if he could have slept forever those words would be true. Sleep prolonged the vision, his eyes shut tight against the dawn light, and the scent of limones  enhanced the hallucination that  Rosa was with him still and always. When he woke up, he didn’t waste time trying to hold on to the feelings. They tore away from him violently and were gone. His day started fast. He lived twenty-five miles east, in Boyle Heights, but sometimes stayed in the orchard during fire season and when there was extra work to be done. He led a crew of three, with extra men hired from the Malibu Community Labor Exchange or the parking lot at the Woodland Hills Home Depot when necessary. They came to the property at 8 a.m.

The Riley family lived in a big Spanish colonial–style house, with arched windows and a red tile roof, just up the ridgeline from Roberto’s cabin. They had occupied this land in western Malibu’s Santa Monica Mountains since the mid-1900s. While other families had torn up old, less profitable orchards and planted vineyards, the Rileys remained true to their family tradition of raising citrus. Roberto respected their loyalty to their ancestors and the land. The grove took  up forty acres, one hundred twenty-year-old trees per acre, planted in straight lines on the south-facing hillside, in the same furrows where older trees had once stood. Twenty years ago the Santa Ana winds had sparked fires that burned the whole orchard, sparing  Casa Riley but engulfing neighboring properties on both  sides. Close to the house and large tiled swimming pool were rock outcroppings and three-hundred-year-old live oaks— their trunks eight feet in diameter—still scorched black from that fire. Fire was mystical, and although it had swept through Malibu in subsequent years, the Rileys’ property had been spared.

Right now the breeze blew cool off the Pacific, but Roberto knew it could shift at any time. Summer had ended, and now the desert winds would start:  the Santa Anas, roaring through the mountain passes, heating up as they sank from higher elevations down to the coast, and any flash, even from a power  tool,  could ignite the canyon.  It had been dry for two months straight. He walked to the barn, where the control panel was located, and turned on the sprinklers. The water sprayed up, catching rainbows as the sun crested the eastern mountains. it hissed,  soft and  constant, and  Roberto couldn’t help thinking of the sound as money draining away. Water was delivered to the orchard via canal, and was expensive.  The Rileys had told him many times that the important thing was the health of the trees and lemons, and to protect the land from fire.

He had something even more important to do before his coworkers arrived: make the coastal path more secure. He grabbed a sledgehammer and cut through the grove to the cliff edge. The summer-dry hillsides sloped past the sparkling pool, down in a widening V to the Pacific Ocean. Occasionally hikers crossed Riley land to connect with the Backbone Trail and other hikes in the mountain range. Years back someone had installed stanchions and a chain: a rudimentary fence to remind people the drop was steep, five hundred feet down to the canyon floor.

He tested the posts and found some loosened. Mudslides and temblers made the land unstable. He wished she would stay off this trail entirely, walk the dog through the orchard, where he could better keep an eye on them, or at least use the paths on the inland side of the property. But she seemed to love the ocean.  He’d seen her pass this way both mornings since she’d arrived, stopping to stare out to sea while the dog rustled through the chaparral and coastal sage. He tapped the first post to set his aim, then swung the sledge- hammer overhead, metal connecting with metal with a loud gong. He felt the shock of the impact in the bones of his wrists and shoulders. Moving down the row of stanchions, he drove each one a few inches deeper into the ground until they were solidly embedded. The wind was blowing toward the house. He hoped the sound wouldn’t bother her, but he figured it wouldn’t. She rose early, like him.


Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from The Lemon Orchard by Luanne Rice. Copyright © 2013 by Luanne Rice

Booklist Review of THE LEMON ORCHARD

The Lemon Orchard

The Lemon Orchard.

Advanced Review – Uncorrected Proof

Rice, Luanne (Author) Jul 2013. 304 p. Viking/Pamela Dorman, hardcover, $27.95. (9780670025275).

Trust Rice (Little Night, 2012), known for fiction that explores the power of family, to find the humanity in illegal immigration, a topic too often relegated to rhetoric and statistics. The story centers on Julia and Roberto, both of whom have suffered the loss of a daughter. Julia’s was killed in a car accident. Roberto’s little girl went missing as the pair crossed into the U.S. from Mexico—a trek through punishing desert that Rice depicts with visceral, heartbreaking brutality. The pair meet at the Malibu home of Julia’s aunt and uncle, where Julia is housesitting and Roberto oversees the titular orchard. An unlikely friendship forms between the two, a bond born out of shared grief, which eventually grows into a tender romance. Though Rice acknowledges the cultural chasm between her lovers, she also imbues her characters with uncommon kindness and understanding. Initially weighed down with exposition, Rice’s novel picks up steam as Julia takes up the search for Roberto’s daughter. An unexpected plot turn will leave readers begging for a sequel.

— Patty Wetli

The old Blue Moon

BLUE MOON is now available as an e-book.  This gives me the chance to remember writing the novel, to be filled with all the emotions of the time.  The words "Blue Moon," as well as referring to the celestial phenomenon of two full moons during the same calendar month, is also the name of the old blood-and-booze soaked honky tonk section of Newport, Rhode Island.  My grandmother first told me about it--she was a "good girl," but as a young woman she and her boyfriend (who became my grandfather) were known to visit the Blue Moon district to meet their friends, cause some mischief, and dance up a storm.

I started writing the novel late one fall, when the weather had turned cold and storms had started down from Labrador, while driving in my car one day, I heard a radio report of a local fishing boat missing.  The Coast Guard search began, continued over Thanksgiving, and was about to be called off when flares were sighted.   Suddenly there was hope...but then the rumors began, that the flares had been set off by other fishing boats, doing anything they could to keep the search going.

That kind of love and loyalty hit me hard.  I decided to write about a family fishing business in Mount Hope (aka Newport) Rhode Island.  The  Keating clan owned a fleet of boats, then sold the catch at Lobsterville, their wharfside restaurant.   There are three generations of Keatings, all with their own loves, hardships, secrets, and joys.    I love that family still, and feel as if they're my own.

I  hope you'll download BLUE MOON and meet the Keatings.  Billy and Cass, married 10 years and with 3 kids, were known as "the batteries" --their attraction to each other  was so strong--and  I think I've gotten more reader mail about a certain scene in Billy's truck in a grocery store parking lot than for many other books combined--but who says married couples can't have fun too?

Sheila, the matriarch, is still in love with her husband, in spite of the fact he's been dead for years now, and she never stops dreaming of another dance at the old Blue Moon with him.

My kind of love.