SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.
Title: The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio
Author: Terry Ryan
Page Count: 351
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, Family stories
Tone: Humorous, Heartwarming, Inspirational
1. Much of The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio takes place in the 1950s. What in particular demonstrates how people and/or attitudes were different during that time?
2. There’s a popular saying: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Was there anything you read that you can relate to life today?
3. If this book were written today, what would be different?
4. How would you describe Evelyn as a “character”? What was her most admirable trait? What about her was not so admirable?
5. Evelyn very much believed in destiny. How do you see this belief playing out in her life?
6. What do you think of Kelly, Evelyn’s husband? Did you feel any sympathy for him?
7. Why do you think Kelly started drinking?
8. Would you label Kelly as abusive? Why or why not?
9. The concept of domestic violence didn’t exist in the 1950s (though the act certainly did). How might Evelyn and Kelly’s relationship be received today, in light of our modern understanding of domestic violence?
10. Why did Evelyn never leave Kelly? Should she have? Would she today?
11. At one point in the book, Evelyn tells daughter Tuffy it would be a waste of time to stand up to Kelly. What does she mean by this? Do you agree?
12. Do you think the author – Terry Ryan – was too tough in her portrayal of her father?
13. This is a work of nonfiction. Do you think the author took any creative license when telling her family’s story?
14. What do you think Ryan’s motivation was for writing this book?
15. What might be different about the book if it were an autobiography written by Evelyn herself?
16. How would you describe the tone of this book? Do you think the tone was appropriate for the topics discussed in the book?
17. Evelyn was a religious woman, and she respected clergy as representatives of God. Do you think the clergy in her story deserved such high regard?
18. There are several integral supporting characters in this story – particularly Aunt Lucy. What was her role in Evelyn’s life?
19. What do you think would have happened to Evelyn and her family if she hadn’t discovered contests and used her writing talents?
20. After Evelyn won the Dr. Pepper contest, the children knew “From then on . . . there could never be a problem bigger than Mom’s ability to solve it” (p. 334). What would it have felt like, growing up as a child in the Ryan household? How did Evelyn’s children view her?
21. Evelyn wrote a letter to college admissions, intimately discussing her family’s troubles. Why did she do this? What does it reveal about the kind of woman she was?
22. After Evelyn died, her children discovered she “had” to get married. How do you think a lack of options affected Evelyn, her marriage, and how she raised her children?
23. What are your thoughts on Kelly’s “legacy of atonement” (i.e., $60,000)? Why didn’t Evelyn spend it?
24. On her deathbed, Evelyn said of Defiance: “It was a nice place to be. A saving place” (p. 341). What do you think she meant by that? How do you see the town of Defiance, Ohio?
Lit Lovers’ book discussion questions
Website dedicated to Evelyn’s life (includes photos and Evelyn’s notebooks)
Roger Ebert’s film review for The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio
Washington Post obituary for Terry Ryan