Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Georgia's Kitchen includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Jenny Nelson. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
High school sweethearts Evia and Adam Langston have been together forever. But when Adam loses his job in the wake of the recession, the Langstons find themselves quickly drowning in financial troubles and unable to support their family of five. Evia and Adam have no idea what to do until Evia’s boss, Shay-Shaunté, makes a proposition that sends the Langstons’ world spinning out of control. Shay-Shaunté, the owner of a multimillion dollar hair-care enterprise, makes the couple a proposition that at first seems easy to refuse. But ultimately temptation proves too much to resist, and the Langstons take a trip down the rabbit hole with turns they could never expect and an outcome they could never imagine.
TOPICS & QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. How did the author establish Evia’s moral center and personality in the opening pages? Did you find it effective? Did you feel as though you’d gotten to know Evia in this introduction? Why or why not?
2. Shay-Shaunté is portrayed to be the villain of this story. Describe your first impression of Evia’s boss. How did your opinion of her change, if it changed, throughout the novel?
3. Why do you think the author had Evia drive through her childhood neighborhood and visit her mother on her way home from being offered the fortune from Shay-Shaunté? What did her drive and visit add to the story, and to your understanding of Evia?
4. Shortly after readers are introduced to Evia’s husband, Adam, he teaches their children about the value of money and the importance of budgeting. What significance does this scene have for the novel? What impression did this introduction give you about Adam?
5. Beyond their very human love of money and comfort, the Langstons are intrigued by Shay-Shaunté’s offer because it seems a solution to many problems. List the hardships the Langstons have endured both before the novel’s start and in its beginning chapters. Do these hardships make you feel the Langstons’ money problems more deeply? Ultimately, how does knowledge of their suffering influence your thoughts about whether or not they should accept Shay-Shaunté’s proposition?
6. Brooklyn and Tamica, Evia’s friends from childhood, are still a regular part of Evia’s life. Were you surprised that it was Brooklyn, the first lady of their church, who encouraged Evia to take Shay-Shaunté’s deal? Why or why not? Discuss the various opinions on the situation and the characters who deliver them to Evia and Adam throughout the novel.
7. Because of their financial situation, Adam and Evia ultimately agree to Shay-Shaunté’s five-million-dollar deal. Do you think that if they hadn’t been threatened with foreclosure on their home, they still would have taken the deal? What do you think influenced their decision more: the lure of easy money, or the need to protect their family from embarrassment and hardship?
8. In the minutes and hours after Adam leaves for his weekend with Shay-Shaunté, Evia finds that she cannot cope. She keeps imagining them together and wonders what’s keeping Adam from calling her: Shay-Shaunté’s money or her looks. Do you think Evia was being paranoid, or did she have reason to be worried? Discuss how you think you would cope if you were in her position.
9. Evia says, “The last fifty hours had made me see that five million dollars was hardly worth anything.” Do you think she really means that, or is she just emotionally distraught at that moment?
10. How do you feel about the legal trick Shay-Shaunté played on the Langstons? Which was worse, the financial deception or the lies she told Evia at work after the weekend together?
11. When Adam and Evia are cheated out of part of the money, Shay-Shaunté says, “You would have done this for whatever I offered. Two million, three million. I was just being generous when I offered you five million." Do you think she’s right? Is the amount as important as the fact that the Langstons were willing to sacrifice what they believed in?
12. After that weekend, Evia seems to be increasingly suspicious of Adam. She finds every reason to not trust him. Identify and discuss the reasons she finds or creates to suspect he’s still having an affair with Shay-Shaunté. Did you think there was a real threat, or is Evia coloring the daily activities with her own imagination of what could be happening?
13. Adam fulfills his part of the deal, but Evia refuses to continue working for the agreed-upon six months. Do you think Adam has a right to be upset? Should Evia have continued working, or was she right to leave even after the worst offense was already done, the bigger sacrifice already made?
14. Throughout the book, the twins are excited about planning their sixteenth birthday party. The finale of the novel takes place at the party . . . where Shay-Shaunté shows up with more drama. Why do you think the author chose this setting for the last conflict between Shay-Shaunté and the Langstons?
ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
1. In some ways, this could be seen as a retelling of Faust, the theme of making a deal with the devil. Can you think of other stories that you’ve read, watched, or heard that also deal with the temptation of sacrificing your beliefs for something you want and then regretting it? Briefly outline the elements of these plots and compare them to The Deal, the Dance, and the Devil.
2. Make your next book club meeting a movie night. Rent one or more movies that employ the “Faustian deal” such as Doctor Faustus, Damn Yankees!, Bedazzled, or The Devil’s Advocate. Afterward, discuss what it might take for you to “sell your soul” and compromise your beliefs, and consider why this “deal with the devil” theme is so enduring.
3. Put yourself in Adam and Evia’s shoes. Imagine that you or your spouse were laid off and had to find a way to cut corners—to avoid a deal with the devil. What would you do to make ends meet? Are there certain items you could live without, or another job you would consider (part time, seasonal, odd jobs) to help? If you have children, how would you explain the need to sacrifice during tough times to them? Is there a particular Bible verse that you would consider sharing to help your family cope with the hardship?
4. Victoria Christopher Murray has written a number of popular books. If you’ve read some of them, discuss how they are alike and different from this one. Take some time to visit and browse the author’s website at victoriachristophermurray.com.
A CONVERSATION WITH VICTORIA CHRISTOPHER MURRAY
Although it’s not obvious from the beginning, The Deal, the Dance, and the Devil is a contemporary retelling of the traditional “deal with the devil” story. Did you find inspiration in any other similar stories?
Interestingly, the idea for this novel came from Facebook. I asked a simple question—would you give up your husband for five million dollars. Whew! The answers flowed in—all kinds of responses . . . funny and serious ones. I never thought about this as a book, but when it came time for my next contract, that Facebook status came to mind—and The Deal, the Dance, and the Devil was born.
In The Deal, the Dance, and the Devil, you’ve managed to set up a solid, almost perfect marriage and family; weigh it down with some financial trouble; and ripen it for the temptation that will bring it down. Have you seen temptation of this sort break families and marriages before? Was this story influenced by real people you know or know about?
I never write about people I know for two reasons. One, I believe and pray that God has given me more of an imagination than that; and two, my friends would kill me! LOL! However, I’ve seen people broken by their circumstances, and I didn’t have to look far. Every day, I struggle with not looking at what’s going on around me and keeping my eyes on God. So I didn’t have to look beyond my own backyard for the thoughts of how someone could break and fall to temptation under the most stressful of circumstances.
You’re the author of several African American novels that preach God’s love. Do you consider your work Christian fiction? Why or why not?
Oh, the question of the hour—every hour! First, I hope no one sees me as preaching anything. About God, I write what I know—and I know about His faithful, merciful, graceful, never-ending love. But as far as writing Christian fiction, that was never my intention. I wanted to reach readers who may never step into a church, and having never read Christian fiction before (and I hardly read it now) I wasn’t trying to write into any genre. Even now, I hate being given any kind of label—I just write what’s on my heart. Labels, like in all other parts of life, limit us.
This book was published during a period of almost-recession and high unemployment. A lot of readers will be able to relate to the temptation of easy money. Is there a lesson here specific to this time and place in our history that motivated you to write this book?
Nope! Truly, I am not that deep. I write contemporary novels, and so this one is just taking place during this time. I do think that this time in our lives provides an interesting backdrop.
Some of the scenes in the book take place at church, where Evia is touched by sermons that seem to speak directly to her. Do you find that such is often the case not only with your characters but in real life? That messages delivered in places of worship often speak personally to individuals?
I think everyone who attends church regularly has experienced this—where you are absolutely sure the pastor walked through your life with you that week and then prepared the sermon just for you. The first few times when it happened to me were scary. But then I accepted it for what it was—God speaking to me in all kinds of ways.
Many first-time authors write semiautobiographical novels. Now that you’ve written several, how much of your own life still ends up in your novels?
Like I said before, I leave my life and my friends out of these stories. LOL!
You must hear stories quite often from readers who associate with your characters and books. Is there one in particular that you’d like to share with us, something that continues to inspire and encourage you in your work?
You know, over the twelve years I’ve been writing, I’ve received thousands of emails and letters from readers letting me know how my novels have impacted their lives. There is not one that stands out; it’s the message of all of them that is important to me. And the message is, though I think these books are fiction, these words, these story lines can make a difference in a reader’s life. And that’s why I keep writing.
This novel takes place in the Washington, D.C., area. Do you research the settings of your novels or did you use places that you already knew from your own life? What importance did the city play in the book? Would you have considered setting The Deal, the Dance, and the Devil in New York or Los Angeles, as with some of your other novels?
The District of Columbia didn’t play as much of a role in the book as I would’ve liked. Because the novel takes place in the winter, it was hard to put the characters outside to do anything. I chose D.C. because I wanted to get out my characters of L.A. and New York. I prefer to choose cities that I know a little about—I think writers can make the cities/settings an additional character in the book, but it didn’t happen for me this time.
You are both a Christian and an artist. What role does God play in your creative process?
This is probably one of the best questions I’ve ever been asked. God plays a role in every single part of my life, so His hand in my writing is no different. From the bottom of my heart, I want to please the Lord. So, as I’m writing—or doing anything—I’m always aware, always praying that what I’m doing is pleasing to Him. I tell people that for me, being a Christian is not an adjective, it’s a verb—it’s in every thing I do.
As far as the books specifically, there have been times when I know for a fact that I’ve put words down on the page that have come directly from Him. With this novel, I know that He was behind the plot—the way the story twisted and turned—because the entire second half of this book was not in my head when I started. This book was nothing like I thought it was going to be. I thought it was going to be a light, humorous story, and it turned out to be something completely different.
When we last see the Langston family, they’re on their way to jail and they’ve been humiliated in front of each other and before all of their dearest friends. Do you imagine that Evia, Adam, and the kids will ever be the strong family that they were before? Or has the temptation destroyed what they had forever?
You know what? I don’t know, that’s why I left the story where I did. My prayer for them—if they were real—is that they figure all of this out and that they are able to find their way back to each other. But it would be a tough road—every part of their marriage was touched, and they would have to fight to put their life back together. Which is why we all need to be careful with every decision we make.
Was it important for you to set up a situation where most readers would fall for the tempting offer? What would be your advice to those faced with such a decision?
It was very important to set up a scenario where most readers would say, “You know, I just might do that.” Then, it was just as important for readers to know that you can—dance with the devil if you want to, but you’re gonna get burned! I believe that there are many people who don’t believe that the devil is real and I hope this novel will give readers something to think about. The devil is real and he’s roaming to and fro to kill, steal, and destroy everything that God has for you. I hope this book opens up a few eyes—it certainly opened up mine!