Strangers at the Feast

By Jennifer Vanderbes
(Scribner, Hardcover, 9781439166956, 352pp.)

Publication Date: August 3, 2010

Other Editions of This Title: Compact Disc, Compact Disc, MP3 CD, Paperback

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Selected by Indie Booksellers for the August 2010 Indie Next List
“Oh, how family holidays can go wrong -- terribly wrong. Thanksgiving for the Olsons begins on a hopeful note, yet the reader feels a clear sense of impending doom. Anyone will be able to relate to the family dynamics of this classic American family in this familiar, yet disturbing novel. Vanderbes nails every character and each voice perfectly.”
-- Valerie Koehler, Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, TX


On Thanksgiving Day 2007, as the country teeters on the brink of a recession, three generations of the Olson family gather. Eleanor and Gavin worry about their daughter, a single academic, and her newly adopted Indian child, and about their son, who has been caught in the imploding real-estate bubble. While the Olsons navigate the tensions and secrets that mark their relationships, seventeen-year-old Kijo Jackson and his best friend Spider set out from the nearby housing projects on a mysterious job. A series of tragic events bring these two worlds ever closer, exposing the dangerously thin line between suburban privilege and urban poverty, and culminating in a crime that will change everyone’s life.


In her gripping new book, Jennifer Vanderbes masterfully lays bare the fraught lives of this complex cast of characters and the lengths to which they will go to protect their families. Strangers at the Feast is at once a heartbreaking portrait of a family struggling to find happiness and an exploration of the hidden costs of the American dream.


Published to international acclaim, Jennifer Vanderbes’s first book, Easter Island, was hailed as “one of those rare novels that appeals equally to heart, mind, and soul,” by the San Francisco Chronicle. In her second novel, this powerful writer reaches new heights of storytelling. This page-turner wrestles with the most important issues of our time—race, class, and above all else, family. Strangers at the Feast will leave readers haunted and deeply affected.


About the Author

Jennifer Vanderbes is the author of the novels Easter Island and Strangers at the Feast, and is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and a New York Public Library Cullman Fellowship. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Granta and has been translated into sixteen languages. She lives in New York City with her daughter. Visit her website at

Conversation Starters from


  1. "Was there a length to which a mother wouldn't go?" Consider the three Olson mothers in this novel and their relationships with their children. How does each mother protect her children, both physically and otherwise? What are their priorities as mothers? Do you think they have their priorities in order?

Praise For Strangers at the Feast

“Compelling. It's punctuated with sharp observations about class and race, about the winners and losers in America's power grabs, and about the ways a family can play out a culture's conflicts.” —Washington Post

“A tour de force that traces the long history of two families’ decisions to their inevitable, chilling intersection….A must-read.” –Book Page

“Vanderbes has gracefully accomplished the difficult narrative feat of creating a family, which, while emblematic of shifts in the American way of life, is composed of completely realized individuals.” —Boston Globe

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