Bleeding Kansas

Bleeding Kansas

by Sara Paretsky

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101211922
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/01/2008
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 624
Sales rank: 289,066
File size: 990 KB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Sara Paretsky is the New York Times bestselling author of the renowned V.I. Warshawski novels. Her many awards include the Cartier Diamond Dagger Lifetime Achievement Award from the British Crime Writers' Association and the 2011 Mystery Writers of America's Grand Master Award. She lives in Chicago.


Chicago, Illinois

Date of Birth:

June 8, 1947

Place of Birth:

Ames, Iowa


B.A., Political Science, University of Kansas; Ph.D. and M.B.A., University of Chicago

Reading Group Guide

Set in the Kaw River Valley where Paretsky grew up, Bleeding Kansas is the story of the Schapens and the Grelliers, two farm families whose histories have been entwined since the 1850s, when their ancestors settled the valley as antislavery emigrants.

Today, the Schapen family, terrified by the lawlessness of the 1970s—when Lawrence was the most violent college town in the nation—has turned to that old-time religion for security. The Schapens keep a close eye on all their neighbors, most especially the Grelliers. They maintain careful track of everyone’s misdeeds, printing the most egregious on their family website. When Gina Haring, a Wiccan, moves into an empty farmhouse and starts practicing pagan rites, the Schapens are so outraged that they begin an active harassment campaign against the Wiccans.

The family members worry, too, about who stands better with the Lord, they or the Grelliers. When a Schapen cow gives birth to what may be a “Perfect Red Heifer” —needed if the temple is ever rebuilt in Jerusalem—the Schapens feel convinced that God is indeed smiling on them.

The pastor at their church, the Salvation Bible Church, proclaims:

“We have been given a miracle, a chance to make history in Kansas. The nation and the world laugh at us. ‘What is the matter with Kansas?’, liberals ask. We have a chance to say, ‘Nothing’s the matter with Kansas; everything’s right with Kansas.’ What’s the matter is that this nation has turned its back on the truth of the risen Lord.”

Despite parental cautions, the Grelliers’ teenage children are enraged by the Schapens. All their short lives, they and the young Schapens have fought, first in their country school and now in high school. One particularly angry confrontation causes Chip Grellier to be expelled from school and consequently to join the army. Chip’s death in Iraq is the catalyzing event for momentous, even monstrous, changes in the lives of not only both the Schapens and the Grelliers but of all the families in the Valley. The powerful, climactic scene at Gina Haring’s Samhain bonfire will forever haunt the reader.


  • Discuss Susan’s fascination with the history of the Grelliers and Abigail’s diaries. Why do you think she attaches herself so strongly to her husband’s family history?
  • What is your first impression of Gina Haring? Does your perception of her change as you learn more about her?
  • At various points in the story, Myra Schapen uses the family website to report the misdeeds and misfortunes of her neighbors, most importantly the Grelliers. Do you view the website as a source of power for the Schapens? How is media, in general, portrayed in the story?
  • Jim tries to think of his son’s death as the result of a number of different forces, whereas Susan blames herself. What do you think most influenced Chip’s decision to join the army and, subsequently, be killed?
  • Susan makes a point to call her children by their proper names, rather than their nicknames like everyone else. Why do you think this is?
  • Jim emphasizes the sentiment that “you can’t farm in the valley if you’re on bad terms with your neighbors.” Indeed, community values are embraced by most of the families in the valley—with the exception of the Schapens. At the same time, however, Kaw River Valley seems to be the breeding ground for outcasts, including Gina Haring, Robbie, and even Lara herself. How do you feel about this juxtaposition?
  • Do you see a difference between the Schapens’ spying habits and Lara Grellier’s own compulsion to sneak into other people’s houses?
  • The perfect red heifer represents different things for different groups. The Jews view her as the key component to rebuild their Temple and the Schapens, specifically Myra, Junior, and Arnie, see her as profit. Can you think of what the heifer might mean to Robbie?
  • Throughout the story, various characters use the words “dyke” and “retarded.” How do you feel about these words and their uses in the story?
  • Although in different ways, Susan and Elaine both lost a child. Are there any other parallels between the two women?
  • In chapter 51, Pastor Nabo attempts an exorcism on Robbie, Lara, and Elaine. How did this scene make you feel?
  • Elaine never falters in her accusation of Myra Schapen as the person responsible for the fire in the bunkhouse. However, late in the story Jim remembers his own grandfather’s grievances with the hippies. Who do you think set the fire, if anyone, and for what reason?
  • Discuss your feelings at the end of the story. Do you think it could have ended differently?
  • Customer Reviews

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    Bleeding Kansas 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 39 reviews.
    NEKansasReader More than 1 year ago
    I come from an area approximately an hour north of where this book takes place. I felt so at home reading this, that I often look for other books similar. I think it was absolutely amazing how Ms. Paretsky was able to cover such a broad spectrum of topics in a 300 page book without losing the reader. Instead of focusing on one character or another, I really felt like I got to know the majority of the characters in the book. Watching Jim develop as well as others and relationships was very intriguing. It definitely made the book hard to put down. If you enjoy country life and have any farm experience whatsoever (or not!) you will definitely love this book. It also gives such a profound look into the differences from one protestant church to another. However, as a Catholic, I have to say the book is not very nice to us! ;) I hope you all enjoy this as much as I have. I'd like to read more from this author. However, I hear her other novels are nothing like this book was.
    Springerluv on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    This is a wonderful saga of three families who hae coexisted for over 150 years on land in Kansas. The relationships between those families' heirs, including organic farming, religion and the war in Iraq, provide a rich and powerful story which includes substantial emotion and a bit of mystery. A wonderful read!
    debs4jc on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    Kansas was once the first battleground in the nation's conflict over Slavery. Paretsky makes it a battleground of modern issues--as neighbors square off against one another over homosexuality and religious issues. What sets it off is when a newcomer moves into the farming community that surrounds the town of Lawrence. She is a Wiccan and a supposed lesbian, and that sets off some of her neighbors, who are extreme fundamentalist Christians. Caught in the middle is a family who is rather ordinary, except for the mother's tendancy to get enthusiastically involved in new projects like organic farming. She joins her new neighbor in investigating Wiccan practices and protesting the war--but then her son joins the army. Tradgedy follows, and the conflicts continue to escalate out of control until they boil over into a dramatic confrontation between all the various groups. This was an interesting story, lots of drams, but pretty far fetched. Interesting social issues and descriptions of the land make it worth reading and talking about.
    Clif on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    A quotation from the book that caught my attention:"The hardest thing about adolescence is that everything seems too big. There's no way to get context or perspective, ..... Pain and joy without limits. No one can live like that forever, so experience finally comes to our rescue. We come to know what we can endure, and also that nothing endures." This is spoken by a high school English teacher to a student who has lost interest in school because of personal problems. In the context of the story she seems like the teacher sent from heaven. This is an example of touching the future by being a teacher.Excerpt from the book:"Mute wife behind him, distraught daughter in front of him, him in the middle." This is a description of a man struggling to hold his family life together.Another Excerpt:"When Jesus returns in glory, it just may be due to local farmer .....". This is from a newspaper article announcing the appearance of the "perfect red heifer" described by the biblical book of Numbers.The book is about how history and various religions interact in a current rural Kansas setting. The narrative brings together the following religions (or world views) in a story with numerous conflicts and misunderstandings; (1) Liberal Christian (open & accepting), (2) Conservative Christian (fire & brimstone), (3) Wiccan (witchcraft), (4) No Religion (poor white trash), (5) Ultraorthodox Jewish (rebuild the temple), and (6) Religious Skeptic (homeless alcoholic leftover from the 60's hippie scene). The book contains flashbacks to the Civil War "Bleeding Kansas" era as well as ties to the antiwar riots in of city of Lawrence and on the KU campus that occurred in the late 1960s. Everybody in the story has problems they need to face which provides plenty of tension and suspense for the plot line. However, the tale of the unblemished red heifer is so filled with irony and humor it caused me to laugh out loud. The story ends with some adrenalin pumping excitement. It's a heck of a story. Paretsky's writing is well done. That's why I placed excerpts from the book first in this review. They're better than anything I can say about the book.
    kraaivrouw on LibraryThing 8 months ago
    I'm a fan of Ms. Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski series & have considered reading this standalone a number of times since it came out. I've put it back on the shelves for a number of reasons, not least of them that I'm just not that into small-town family chronicles of this sort. I finally took it out because I figured I should give it a shot. Paretsky's a good writer & I'm always curious to see what writers of thrillers will do with a standalone novel.This novel is well-written & well-plotted, but seems to lack focus in some fundamental way. I was never sure what Ms. Paretsky was trying to say & she certainly wasn't presenting a mere slice of life - to do that would have required more realism than is employed here. In many ways all of these characters are caricatures & for this novel with its lack of direction that's a problem.Still, the plotting is good & some of the descriptive writing of the countryside is quite lovely. I enjoyed the few times she shared the diaries of the 1860's ancestor & found myself wishing she'd allowed us more time with those people than with their modern forbears. At the least she should have drawn parallels between then & now & that she didn't made the diary entries seem pretty superfluous.All in all an average book with some above average moments.
    mcelhra on LibraryThing 8 months ago
    This book takes place in a small farming community outside of Lawrence, Kansas. It centers on the conflict between two families who have lived on their land since the 1860s and the changes that take place when an outsider moves to town.When I started this book, so many characters were introduced at once that I had trouble remembering who was who. I stuck with it though and had it all straightened out within a couple of chapters. At times the book was a little unrealistic and the characters stereotypical but overall it was an engaging story. I could not put it down for the last seventy pages, it was so suspenseful.
    jopearson56 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
    I read this book because author Sara Paretsky is coming to speak as part of our libraries' Outloud! Author Series this spring and I am leading a staff book discussion about it. I haven't ever read anything else by Paretsky and from what I hear this is very different from her other mystery books about detective V.I. Warshawski. I don't read many mysteries, but have a sense I know what those would be like. And this book struck me as Paretsky's attempt to write "serious literature." Well, it was more serious I'm sure than the mysteries, but I didn't think her writing style was up to the task. I enjoyed the book enough, but didn't ever find it compelling. As I'm writing this and thinking about it, I'm not even too sure what it is I objected to. It was pretty much a downer of a story, not a lot of happiness going on. But then, really, it probably wasn't all that unrealistic in its depiction of a family whose son is killed in Iraq. On the other hand, I didn't find the Gina character to be interesting, empathetic, sympathetic, or appealing. I'm not convinced a rich New York socialite would opt to "recover" from a divorce that really couldn't have been all that messy (given she was a lesbian without doubt looking for a way OUT of said marriage) by seeking free housing in rural Kansas. She had to have loads better options that would have suited. And then she liked nothing about the place, not the house, the weather, the people; she seemed unpleasant and bitter and strikingly helpless. Most of the characters were just too black-and-white. Dad was too good and whoa, really preachy. The Schapens were too bad, no redeeming characteristics at all. It was never clear how the famlies came to fall out, nor why the Schapens became the next best thing to evil. Maybe fundamentalist religions do things like forcibly trying to convert children, but honestly, that sounded like kidnapping to me, very overdone. Gina had nothing to redeem her. One good farm hand, one bad farm hand. Elaine was just purely nuts. Who in this community is "normal," a regular person? (I suppose all the underdeveloped neighbors who are mostly mentioned in passing.) There wasn't enough nuance. And as Paretsky wrapped up the already-too-long story, suddenly Robbie (aka "The Good Schapen") was going to live with Lara's uncle in Chicago. Not that this was a bad thing for Robbie, obviously, but why in God's name (literally, given his folks!) was he, a kid who was 14 or 15 years old, allowed to do this? His ultra-religious parents would NEVER have let him leave home to go live in Chicago with a Grellier, they HATED the Grelliers. This was utterly unbelievable. They never did anything for Robbie because it would be good for him or the right thing, they were selfish, and how could they run the dairy farm without him? A fabricated happy ending for that kid.
    justablondemoment on LibraryThing 8 months ago
    I was on the fence with this book. At times it really dragged for me and at others I found myself saying,finally, something to interest me. I have to say many times I was wanting to put the book down. There was so much to the book I felt could have been cut out or at least condensed as it just felt over done in places.Much of the time I felt rather confused by what exactly the author was trying to say. It just didn't all come together in an easy flow.Just a so-so book for me.
    milibrarian on LibraryThing 8 months ago
    Lara (Lulu) Grellier grows up a lot during her 15th year. The history of her family and their neighbors comes full cycle during the year. While her ancestors fought for Kansas to be a free state prior to the Civil War, Lara's family must stand up for what is right in the 21st century. The death of Lara's brother in Iraq sends her mother into a deep depression. A new neighbor practices Wicca. And the Schapen's, who post negative comments about their neighbors on the Internet, have bred the "red heifer". Both Lara and Robbie Schapen must deal with a number of issues during the year that they fall in love.This is very different from Paretsky's mysteries. It is more of a coming of age story set in the area where Paretsky grew up.
    citygirl on LibraryThing 8 months ago
    To my knowledge, this is the only novel Paretsky has published outside of the Warshawski series. Quite a good portrait of political and social clashes in present-day Kansas, with good characterizations, but I found the ending unsatisfying: the villains weren't punished quite enough for my taste.Why: I'm a Paretsky and Warshawski fan. I've read everything else she's published.
    missmath144 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
    It started out with so many names from different generations that I got lost and bored in the confusion. But halfway through the book, I was finding it compelling reading, although not very realistic. I wonder if Paretsky really thinks Kansans are so stereotypical. The characters were charicatures, and most of them were not likeable. The book painted liberals, conservatives, and religious people alike with the color of hatred and/or simplemindedness.
    dara85 on LibraryThing 11 months ago
    This takes place in Kansas involving two farming families, the Grelliers and Schapens. Both families have lived in this area of Kansas since before Kansas became a state. The neighbors used to be close, but are now divided by religious beliefs. The grelliers have the more liberial view and the Schapens are more fundimentalist. The Grelliers welcome their new neighbor Gina Haring, while the Schapens believe she is going to hell for her strange beliefs. The Schapens, who own a milking operation, have an all red calf born into their herd. They believe this heifer is sacred and start charging admission to see this miracle animal.As the story continues to unfold the Grelliers daughter, Lara falls in love with Arnie Schapen's outcast son, Robbie. The love between these young people is forbidden in the eyes of the Schapens.Other events are revealed to the reader of how the lives of the neighbors of this area are intertwined.The book is filled with quirky characters some sad and some funny, making for an entertaining read.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Tedious misrepresentation of Kansas life.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    He groomed his pelt.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    She sat sadly.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    catwak More than 1 year ago
    At its best, *Bleeding Kansas* tells a nuanced story about what it means to depart from the norm in a small rural community where neighbors know no privacy and making a living is difficult. It also provides a heartbreaking account of one family's response to death. At its worst, the story becomes sort of a cross between "Romeo and Juliet" and "CinderFella." Sara Paretsky's best writing here is in the same class as America's greats. However, I don't think her villains measure up to the rest of the narrative -- not because they're morally inferior but because their lack of depth and complexity renders them too bad to be quite believable.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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    book-worm62 More than 1 year ago
    This book was so disappointing. About neighbors in a Kansas town who farm the land and spend their time interfering in each other's lives. Every character is a cliche, saintly farmer husband, bad mean bully, hypocritical religious zelot, lesbian feminists, innocent teenage lovers, etc, etc. Every point the author wants to make hits you in the head over and over like a sledge hammer, going nowhere. I kept with the book, hoping something was going to happen, but not much ever does. The writing seemed very amiture and poorly developed. The characters were one dimentional and just whiney and boring.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This is the first book I have read by Ms Paretsky. I enjoyed her style and her historical perspective. I learned something about history and enjoyed the fictional plot. I found the character development to be very good and the plot and perspective of the book to be very original. Who would have thought to address conservative religious views, Wickens, homophobia, the Iraq war, teenage love, infidelity, mental health and many other things in the same novel. I found it quite compelling. I would recommend the book for book clubs as there is ample material for an interesting discussion. But anyone would enjoy the characters and plot. A good read.
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