“In a time when religious liberty is on trial, This Is How It Begins is an extraordinarily pertinent novel dripping in suspense and powerful scenes of political discourse … a must-read ....” —FOREWORD (starred review)

“… Dempsey’s fine first novel [is] notable for the evenhanded way it addresses hot-button issues. The result is a timely and memorable story.” BOOKLIST

“A gripping and sensitive portrait of ordinary people wrestling with ideological passions.” —KIRKUS

"Dempsey’s fine debut, set in 2009, explores how hate, fear, and intolerance cast a lifelong shadow. Current events have only made this gripping story more relevant." —LIBRARY JOURNAL

"[Dempsey’s] writing stimulates one's imagination as well as one's social conscience … a writer worth watching … a novel worth reading." —B. Lynn Goodwin, StoryCircle Book Reviews

Lily King

Beautifully written … wrestles with the fundamental questions of our existence on this earth together. An ambitious and moving debut novel.

Lily King Author of the award-winning, national bestselling novel, "Euphoria"
Bill Bushnell

“This Is How It Begins” is award-winning Maine author Joan Dempsey’s timely, suspenseful and powerful exploration of the very real conflict between religious freedom and civil rights. Dempsey is clearly a talented writer, unafraid to thoughtfully address controversial issues like sexual orientation and intolerance … a provocative hit.

Bill Bushnell Book Reviewer, "Kennebec Journal" and the "Central Maine Morning Sentinel"
Matthew Goodman

In this remarkable novel, Joan Dempsey brings together contemporary America and Holocaust-era Warsaw to tell a riveting tale of family secrets, civil rights, and the persistence of memory. Here are pastors and politicians, teachers and activists, historians and spies—all of them, on every side of the cultural divide, imbued with genuine humanity. This Is How It Begins is an essential story for our time.

Matthew Goodman "New York Times" bestselling author of "Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elisabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World"
Judith Frank

Dempsey brings her characters to life with equal parts empathy and tough-mindedness, from the three generations of the Zeilonka family—refugees, artists, politicians, teachers—to the pastor and radio host striving together to remake the United States into a Christian nation. A riveting story of the clash between LGBT and fundamentalist Christian cultures, and the way its violence reawakens historical trauma, this striking debut is essential reading for our times.

Judith Frank Author of "All I Love and Know," a Lambda Literary Award Finalist
Eva Fogelman, Ph.D.

Joan Dempsey’s spellbinding novel illuminates how the tides of history repeat themselves with different characters. When a group is targeted for discrimination there will be resisters and rescuers, but mostly bystanders. This is How It Begins superbly demonstrates the clandestine nature of rescue, and the irony that those who ought to be rewarded for their conscience and courage remain hidden, and live in fear. Reading this moving adventure compels us to bear witness to the past and present and think about our own complacency to everyday discrimination in our midst.

Eva Fogelman, Ph.D. Author of the Pulitzer Prize nominee "Conscience and Courage: Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust"
Paddy Murphy

This exquisitely drawn and timely novel will remind you why we have freedom of expression, ideas, sexuality and religion, and leave you wondering why we’re so quick to forget the lessons of the past.

Paddy Murphy Material Pictures
Bill Lundgren

Into these tumultuous and politically polarized times comes a beautifully wrought novel that plumbs the roots of bigotry, hatred and intolerance. This Is How It Begins makes it clear that we have been down this road before and we ignore the lessons of history at our own peril. A riveting, immensely satisfying read.

Bill Lundgren Co-author of "Becoming (Other)wise: Enhancing Critical Reading Perspectives"
Mary Rechner

Joan Dempsey’s debut novel explores the limits of empathy and the unpredictability of violence. Thoughtful people who reach opposing conclusions are at the all-too-human center of This Is How It Begins, a prescient road map for our times.

Mary Rechner Author of "Nine Simple Patterns for Complicated Women"
Frank O. Smith

Joan Dempsey’s debut novel is a compelling story that seems to rise out of the rancor of current national headlines—about hate, bigotry, and intolerance. The story has deep roots in the darkness of the horrific persecution and betrayal of Jews during World War II. Twin story lines—then and now—illuminate how close we yet remain to the hellish cauldron that fear enflames.

Frank O. Smith Author of "Dream Singer," a Bellwether Prize finalist


This Is How It Begins