SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.
Title: We Need to Talk About Kevin
Author: Lionel Shriver
Page Count: 400
Genre: Epistolary Fiction
Tone: Disturbing, Compelling, Sobering
1. Can a child be born bad?
2. What do you think the epigraph meant? Does it tell us anything about how the author feels about her subject?
3. What did you think of the epistolary style? Do you enjoy novels in letters?
4. If you were in Eva’s place, would you have stayed living within the community?
5. Would you have visited Kevin in jail if he was your child? Do you think that it did Kevin any good to be visited by his mother every Saturday?
6. Eva didn’t have painkillers when she gave birth to Kevin. She says there is a “…little competition between women about childbirth.” (p.73) Is there a right and a wrong way to give birth? Does having a c-section or using anesthetics “downgrade” the motherhood experience?
7. Eva made sure that Kevin got her last name. What does this say about her? (p. 59)
8. Do you think a baby is capable of liking one parent more than the other? Was this the case with Kevin?
9. Did Eva’s sabbatical from AWAP help her relationship with Kevin? What about with Franklin?
10. While waiting to see Kevin in jail, Eva meets another prisoner’s mother. That mother says
“It’s always the mother’s fault, ain’t it?…that boy turn out bad cause his mama a drunk, or she a junkie. She let him run wild, she don’t teach him right from wrong. She never home when he back from school. Nobody ever say his daddy a drunk, or his daddy not home after school. And nobody ever say they some kids just damned mean. Don’t you believe that old guff. Don’t you let them saddle you with all that killing.” (p. 166)
Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?
11. Why do you think that Eva didn’t want to move to the suburbs? Franklin seemed to believe that a child could not be raised positively in a large city. Do you think he was right?
12. Do you think Kevin purposefully ruined his mother’s wall of maps? Why? Do you think Eva deserved it? (p. 155)
13. Why do you think Eva’s relationship got better with her own mother after the school shooting?
14. If you were Kevin’s mother, would you have participated in the documentary made about him?
15. Eva has this exchange with Kevin during a jail visit:
“All right…I need to know. Do you blame me? It’s all right to say so, if that’s what you think. Is that what you tell your psych consults, or they tell you? It all traces back to your mother.”
He snapped, “Why should you get all the credit?” (p. 172)
What does this conversation expose? What does it say about Kevin?
16. Kevin then goes on to talk disparagingly about his father in a baby talk voice. He plainly didn’t like Franklin. (p. 173) Why do you think he faked being close to his father for so long?
17. Kevin tells his mother that he was proud of her when she used violence against him to use the bathroom (p. 174 & 194). Do you think he meant this? How do you think this made Eva feel?
18. Why do you think Eva did better with her second pregnancy?
19. Celia seemed perfect from birth. Do you think this was Eva putting on rose colored glasses? Do you think that Eva is reliable when talking about her children?
20. Why do you think that Lionel Shriver included a passage about Kevin being helpless and sick? (p. 235) What did this show about both Kevin and his mother?
21. Do you think that there’s ever a time when it is better for both a child and a parent to separate from one another at an early age?
22. If you were the parent of one of Kevin’s victims, would you have allowed Eva to come to your child’s funeral?
23. Is there any way for Eva to make amends for what her son did? Should Eva have to make amends?
24. Do you think that Kevin burned his little sister’s eye out with Liquid Plumr? What was Eva’s reaction to this situation? How about Franklin’s? (p. 292)
25. Do you think Kevin’s drama teacher molested him? (p. 336)
26. Why do you think Kevin wanted to be on Prozac? (p. 349) Was it part of a plan for his future defense?
27. Were you surprised when Kevin had his mother’s picture in his jail cell? (p. 353)
28. Why did Kevin kill the children that he did?
29. Why do you think he killed the one teacher that cared about him?
30. Why do you think he killed his father and sister?
31. Eva finds Franklin and Celia dead in the backyard. Did you see that coming?
32. How did you feel when you found out that Franklin and Eva weren’t separated via divorce, but through death?
33. Eva asks Kevin why he didn’t kill her and he says, “When you’re putting on a show, you don’t shoot the audience.” (p. 394) What did he mean by that?
34. Has Kevin grown as a person by the end of the novel?
35. Kevin received 7 years for the murder of 11 people. Do you think this was a fair sentence?
36. Do you think that the parents of school shooting victims should be able to sue the parents of the shooter for parental negligence?
37. If you were Eva, would you allow Kevin to live with you after he got out of jail?
38. What do you think Lionel Shriver’s purpose was in writing We Need to Talk About Kevin?
39. Did you finish the book?
40. Did you like the book?
Reading Group Guide book discussion questions
BBC HardTalk interview with Lionel Shriver
ITV Local interview with Lionel Shriver
Big Think interview with Lionel Shriver
Lionel Shriver on not having children
Lionel Shriver’s personal experience with a mass shooting
“Genetic Basis for Crime” article in The New York Times
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