Spare Change Five-Time Literary Award Winner
by Master Storyteller Bette Lee Crosby
Forty years before Gloria Steinem sparked the feminist movement, Olivia Ann Westerly thumbed her nose at society and her father by working the night shift at the Southern Atlantic Telephone Company.
After 30 years on the job, Olivia regretted nothing until the love of her life drove into Richmond in a powder blue Cadillac.
Fantastic Characters and Story Flow
Just 22 blissful days after the wedding, tragedy struck and Charlie Doyle slumped over dead in his lobster bisque. Superstitious Olivia blamed herself for not heeding the signs: it’s the unlucky eleventh day of their honeymoon and that opal necklace Charlie hung around her neck.
From this point onward, Spare Change flip flops between Olivia’s lonely journey back to Wyattsville and the hard scrabble life of Benjamin, Susanna and Ethan Allen Doyle on the Eastern shore of Virginia. One night the hostility from an already contentious marriage explodes into a dual family tragedy leaving their 11-year-old son on the road searching for sanctuary.
Rapidly, Unraveling Mystery
Aided by sympathetic strangers and the return address of his Grandfather’s last birthday card, the scrawny lad arrived at the Wyattsville Arms looking for his only living relative. The grieving widow had never wanted children; could she turn away Charlie’s only grandson?
Even when persistent questioning failed to reveal what Ethan Allen had witnessed that evening on the farm, Olivia and her network of friends staunchly supported the foul-mouthed young man even buying him a bicycle for his upcoming 12th birthday.
Can Richmond Detective Jack Mahoney piece together the events of that fateful night before the killer silences the sole witness for good? Will Olivia even get used to being called Grandma? You’ll never know until you pick up Spare Change and find yourself still reading at 2 a.m. (This was me!)
The winner of multiple literary awards, Spare Change deals with murder, adultery, spousal and child abuse, yet received four stars and above from 90% of its readers.
One reviewer complained that Ms. Crosby’s novel was, “just too graphic in the details for my taste; the murders were too bloody”.
Another like-minded critic termed Spare Change as, “too distracting” because of its “filthy language, sex and examples of breaking the 10 commandments”.
Written almost entirely in third person, each section begins with a first-person account from a different character’s perspective. One reviewer felt that this technique, “helped the reader get closer to the individual characters while still being able to understand the full story”. At the same time another commenter found this format, “interrupted the flow of the book”.
Finally, another reader recommended Spare Change for book clubs because of the “varied discussion topics found within its pages: the nature of the human spirit, superstition vs chance and how to make lemonade by squeezing the lemons in your life”. (I wholeheartedly agree and will be adding Spare Change to next year’s list of recommendations!)
Spare Change Book Discussion Questions
- The image of herself weighed down by multiple children, like Francine Burnam, haunted Olivia Westerly. How did this imaginary picture influence Olivia’s life? At what point did her feelings change? What prompted the change?
- Charlie Doyle hadn’t seen his son Benjamin in 15 years; yet found time to send Ethan Allen a birthday card each year with a dollar inside. Suggest reasons for the father-son estrangement. What was Charlie hoping to accomplish by sending the card to his grandson? After reading the novel, would you say he was successful?
- Discuss the two conflicting viewpoints presented in Spare Change: Olivia -“Some people think superstitions are pure nonsense, but I say they give a person fair warning. . . . I know in my heart if I’d taken that opal necklace and thrown it into the ocean the very second Charlie gave it to me, he’d still be alive today” and four-time widow, Canasta Jones-“It’s a true enough tragedy, but not a jinx.”
- An author usually chooses a book’s title from a key word, an image, a section of dialogue or a character’s description. What does the term, spare change, mean to Ethan Allen? Olivia Westerly? Canasta Jones?
- While discussing the marriage and family life of Benjamin and Susanna Doyle, take into account Ethan Allen’s opinion: Daddy should have let Mama have her fling and she could have smoothed things over when we got home
- Some reviewers found the novel to be: “too graphic, too bloody, and too sexually explicit”. Were you ever tempted to put the book down for any of these reasons? If not, what kept you reading until the conclusion?
- Compare and contrast the two vastly different characters of Olivia Westerly and Susanna Doyle. Consider their hopes, their dreams, their position on motherhood.
- Ms. Crosby’s character Ethan Allen has been compared to Mark Sway, in John Grisham’s The Client, and Scout Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. What similarities or differences come to mind?
- Point out instances when both Ethan Allen and Olivia Ann Doyle survived by presenting a false front to those around them.
- Reviewers criticized Spare Change for its shallow reliance on Christian beliefs” and “taking the name of God in vain”. Ask book club members to voice their opinion about Ms. Crosby’s use of religion.
- Readers have hailed Ms. Crosby’s characters in Spare Change as “fantastic, well-defined and believable”. Instruct club members to chose their favorite character and complete the following sentence: I like/dislike (character’s name) because. . . . . (For a variety of answers, members should draw names from a hat.)
- Were you surprised at the story’s ending? Why or why not?
- How would you rate the novel on a scale of 1(bad) to 5 (good)? Spare Change is the first book in the Wyattsville Series. Will you seek out Book 2 Jubilee’s Journey, Book 3 Passing through Perfect, or Book 4 Regrets of Cyrus Dodd?