Check It Out Category: Book Discussion Questions

Book Discussion Questions: The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore

The Other Wes Moore book coverSPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.

Title: The Other Wes Moore
Author: Wes Moore
Page Count: 233
Genre:  Memoir, pop sociology
Tone: Moving, fast-paced, thoughtful

Questions composed by MPPL Staff

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2013 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. What drove author Wes Moore to write to the prisoner Wes Moore? Why do you think prisoner Wes Moore wrote the author back?

2. Have you ever, or would you ever, write a prisoner? Why or why not?

3. What was the fate of author Wes Moore’s father? Do you think his father might have survived under other circumstances? (p. 15)

4. What was the fate of prisoner Wes Moore’s father?

5. What significance did fathers play in the lives of both Wes Moores?

6. Did both Wes Moores have strong mother figures? Do you think both mothers tried their best? Is there anything that either of them could have done differently?

7. Do you think one Wes Moore had a stronger family unit or a better support system while growing up? How can having a strong support system change a child’s life?

8. Outside of his family, who warned author Wes Moore about the bad path he was on? (police officer after he got caught tagging) Did Moore heed this warning? For how long? Why didn’t the change stick?

9. Author Wes Moore states, “Later in life I learned that the way many governors projected the numbers of beds they’d need for prison facilities was by examining the reading scores of third graders.” (p. 54) How did reading this make you feel? Why?

10. What allowed author Wes Moore to go to better schools than prisoner Wes Moore?

11. Author Wes Moore states, “Soon it became clear that the Riots were about more than the tragic death of Dr. King. They were about anger and hurt so extreme that rational thought was thrown out the window – these were people so deranged by frustration that they were burning down their own neighborhood.” (p. 19) Does this “deranged frustration” make sense to you? Are there places today’s America that feel like this?

12. Author Wes Moore talks about the Bronx in the 1980s and early 1990s as an apocalyptic place to be with drugs, burned out buildings, and crime everywhere. Are there still cities like this today? What causes cities to crumble like this? How does living in a neighborhood like this affect a person?

143. At what ages did both Wes Moores start to “go wrong”? Were you surprised by how young they were? What kind of crimes was author Wes Moore into? What about prisoner Wes Moore?

14. What was your first impression of author Wes Moore? What about your first impression of prisoner Wes Moore?

15. How did each Wes Moore respond to danger and aggression? Were their reactions the same?

16. How did Tony try to dissuade prisoner Wes Moore from following his illegal path? Why did it work or not work?

17. At one point, Mary, prisoner Wes Moore’s mother, flushed his drugs down the toilet. What did you think of her actions? Was it enough? Would you have done anything different?

18. Military school obviously benefited author Wes Moore. Do you think there were any other paths that could have set him on the straight and narrow?

19. Prisoner Wes Moore joined Job Corps. Did it help him? What did he go on to do after he exited the program? Why?

20. Prisoner Wes Moore continued to proclaim innocence, saying he wasn’t there for the robbery. Do you think the author believed him? Did you believe him? Do you think he should have been sentenced to life in prison?

21. What did author Wes Moore go on to do after exiting military school?

22. What do you think was the defining factor of why author Wes Moore stepped out of his cycle of destruction and prisoner Wes Moore did not?

23. What does education have to do with the path that each Wes Moore landed on then continued on?

24. What does racial privilege have to do with the stories of both Wes Moores?

25. What does economic privilege have to do with the stories of both Wes Moores?

26. Are racial privilege and economic privilege tied together? How so or how not?

27. Was there a topic you wished the author delved deeper into?

28. After the epilogue, there is “A Call to Action”. What is this section about? Why do you think the author put it in the book? Did reading The Other Wes Moore make you feel called to action? What other books have made you want to take action in the world?

29. If someone enjoyed reading The Other Wes Moore, what books would you recommend to them?

30. Are there any documentaries you would recommend to someone who enjoyed this book?

Other Resources

Author Wes Moore’s website
Lit Lovers’ book discussion questions
Wikispace guide to The Other Wes Moore
Brooklyn Public Library hosts Wes Moore
Interview with the Open Society Foundation
Interview with Oprah
Interview with Salon

If you liked The Other Wes Moore, try…

There are no Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz
Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum
Whatever it Takes by Paul Tough

There Are No Children Here book cover     Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria book coverWhatever it Takes book cover

Book Discussion Questions: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Shadow of the Wind book cover

SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.

Title: The Shadow of the Wind
Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Page Count: 486
Genre: Historical fiction
Tone: Literary, intricate, mysterious

Questions composed by MPPL Staff

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2013 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. What did you think of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books?  Would you like to explore such a place?

2. Before you began the book, did you have any expectations?  How did this meet, exceed, or disappoint them?

3. It is said that each of us reads a different book, because we all bring our own experiences and preconceptions and thoughts to our reading. What book did you read? There’s so much to absorb in this book; what stands out to you?

a. The love story (-ies)?
b. The mystery of Julian Carax?
c. The Javert-like Inspector Fumero?
d. Other?

4. “Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.” (p. 215) Do you agree? In what ways was this your experience while reading The Shadow of the Wind?

5. Why do you think the novel (and the fictional novel by Julian Carax) is called The Shadow of the Wind?

6. The character of Fermin plays many roles in the course of the story. What are they? How does he impact the plot?

7. In what ways are Daniel and Fermin good for each other?

8. What roles do Daniel’s parents play in the story?

9. What are some of the significant turning points in the book?

10. How did Daniel’s first encounter with Lain Coubert affect him? What did you make of this shadowy character? At what point did you realize his true identity?

11. What is the significance of Victor Hugo’s Mont Blanc pen?

12. How would you characterize Zafon’s use of language?

13. How are women portrayed in the book?

14. How does Daniel’s life begin to parallel Carax’s? How did you feel about this?

a. Though they follow very similar trajectories, one ends in tragedy and the other in happiness. What are the differences that allow Daniel to avoid tragedy?
b. What is the relationship between Carax and Daniel?

15. Did Julian deserve for Miguel and Nuria to lay down their lives for him?

16. How does the setting – Spain under Franco – affect the story? Could the story have taken place somewhere other than Barcelona?

17. How are the sins of the fathers and mothers visited upon different characters?

18. Who would you say is the pivot around which the events of the story revolve: Carax or Fumero?

19. How would you describe the tone of The Shadow of the Wind?

20. How do suspense and humor work together in the novel? Does the existence of one reduce the impact of the other, or is the book enhanced by the use of both?

21. What is the view of evil within the book as a whole? What does it see as evil? What does it see as the solution to evil?

22. Which values and perspectives are encouraged by this book? Which does it discourage?

23. Did the story keep your interest throughout? Did your feelings about it change as you read it?

24. What did you think of the ending, in which Daniel introduces his son Julian to the Cemetery?

25. What are some criticisms of the book? Why might someone not like it?

Other Resources

Reading Group Guide discussion questions
Telegraph interview with Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Carlos Ruiz Zafón on bookstores closing
Wikipedia entry on the Spanish Civil War

If you liked The Shadow of the Wind, try…

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson
The Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

Jonathan Strange and mr. norrell book cover     the Gargoyle book cover


Book Discussion Questions: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Language of Flowers book cover

SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.

Title: The Language of Flowers
Author: Vanessa Diffenbough
Page Count: 322
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Tone: Engaging, emotional

Questions composed by MPPL Staff

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2013 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. The story starts with a fire. What happens to Victoria? How does she react?

2. The Language of Flowers goes back and forth in time and each section is titled. What’s the first section called and how does it fit Victoria?

3. What do you think of Meredith, Victoria’s caseworker? Could she have done more for Victoria?

4. What flower does Victoria choose to give Meredith? Is Victoria’s assessment fair?

5. Meredith leaves Victoria with $20 and the advice to get a job. What does Victoria do instead? Why do you think she is so unconcerned with her future?

6. Why does Elizabeth begin trying to reconnect with her sister? Did you sympathize with Elizabeth’s focus on this?

7. How does Victoria test Elizabeth at the beginning? What happens after this initial testing period? What does Elizabeth tell Victoria about her behavior?

8. What characters come into Victoria’s life? Did you like them? Why or why not? What did you think of the “flower vendor” at first? Did your opinion change?

9. Victoria doesn’t recognize Grant at the flower market. What does he give her and how does she respond?

10. Victoria ends up in the library to find out the meaning of white poplar. What other discovery does she make and why is this problematic?

11. Is Victoria able to see nuances in life? Elaborate.

12. How does Grant court Victoria? Why does he persist with her? Are there any signs at all that she wants a relationship?

13. Grant learns to cook, lets Victoria sleep in his home and nurtures her interest in creating a flower book of her own. Is he an unrealistic character or do you think he’s a good guy and she got lucky?

14. Things are going well for Victoria at the flower shop. What talent does she discover that she has?

15. Do flowers really have the power to change outcomes for people? What do you think happened with Earl and Bethany?

16. What keeps Elizabeth from adopting Victoria? What did you think of her ennui? Why did Elizabeth say she couldn’t go through with the adoption? Was Elizabeth fit to be a mom?

17. How does Grant respond when Victoria tells him that they will never be like that old couple? What brings them back together? Why do you think Victoria keeps coming back to Grant when she so adamantly insists that she can’t love?

18. What sparks Victoria to make love with Grant? She initiated the encounter, but where is her mind during it? How does she respond to the news that she is pregnant?

19. What struck you as realistic and not realistic inVictoria’s pregnancy and delivery scenes? Were you surprised that Victoria avoided Mother Ruby as a source of help? As her labor became intense, who did Victoria want with her and why?

20. What flower does Victoria give Grant when she leaves? What does it mean?

21. Where did Victoria get the idea to set the fire and why did she do it? Why does she never speak up, even when Elizabeth is accused?

22. Did Victoria change when she became a mother? How do you know? Did motherhood change how Victoria views others? How comfortable were you with Victoria’s experience as a new mom?

23. How does the baby react after Victoria’s night in the woods?

24. What did you think of the end of The Language of Flowers?

25. Victoria said, “I wanted more than anything to be Elizabeth’s daughter.” She doesn’t mention being Grant’s wife. Was one relationship more pivotal than the other? Do you think this reflects the author’s views?

26. In your opinion, was this book realistic? Did parts of it seem more true to life than others?

27. Victoria’s life so easily could have had a different outcome. To your mind, who was the most instrumental in helping her have a fulfilling adulthood? Was it just one person?

28. Is this book an annual – something enjoyed for a season – or is it destined to be a perennial – something people come back to year after year?

29. Diffenbaugh said she wrote this book because she has strong feelings about the foster care system. What do you think her views are after reading this book? Do you think this book can make a difference in the foster care system? How?

30. In the end, Victoria answers the question Diffenbaugh posed – can someone who’s never been loved learn how to do so? Do you believe this is true or is it wishful thinking?

Other Resources

Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s website
Oprah’s book discussion questions
Daily Beast interview
Bookreporter interview
Washington Post review
AV Club review
Wikipedia entry on floriography

If you liked The Language of Flowers, try…

White Oleander by Janet Fitch
Being Lara by Lola Jaye
Wrecker by Summer Wood

White Oleander book cover    Wrecker book cover


Book Discussion Questions: Outcasts United by Warren St. John

Outcasts United book cover

SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.

Title: Outcasts United
Author: Warren St. John
Page Count: 307
Genre: Nonfiction
Tone: Uplifting, educational

Questions composed by MPPL Staff

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2013 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Has the book Outcasts United given you a better understanding of the lives of refugees? Did it change your opinions on refugees? If so, how?

2. Does Outcasts United fall into your normal reading patterns? How is this book similar or different to what you normally read?

3. Do you normally read on a local or a global scale? What is the worth of reading of local topics? What is the worth of reading of global topics? Is one type of reading better than the other?

4. What were some of the hardships that refugees faced before coming to America? What about after they got here?

5. What preconceptions do you think refugees brought with them about America? How was the reality of their new country different than their expectations?

6. How did the members of the Fugees build community after coming to Clarkston?

7. Talk about Clarkston, Georgia before the refugee settlement. How did it change after the refugee settlement was established?

8. Why was Clarkston chosen for the refugee settlement?

9. What were the different reactions from residents about the settlement? Did anyone’s opinions of the refugee settlement change over time?

10. Were the refugees all one ethnicity and religion? How did varied ethnic and religious backgrounds affect the refugee community as a whole?

11. Who were the Somali Bantu? Why were residents wary of the Somali Bantu settling in Clarkston?

12. What are some of the struggles with identity that the refugees faced in Outcasts United? What are some of the struggles with identity that long-term Clarkston faced in Outcasts United?

13. Who is Luma? Why did she help the students and their families? What can we learn by her example?

14. Is Luma’s refugee experience similar to that of her players? How? How is it different?

15. Why do you think Luma’s younger players were able to better connect than her older players?

16. Did the educational policies in Clarkston help or hinder the members of the Fugees? What, if any, reforms would you suggest?

17. What kind of coach was Luma? Did her gender affect her coaching style? Is there a right or a wrong way to coach?

18. Was soccer “just a game” in Outcasts United?

19. What examples of “paying it forward” did you notice in Outcasts United?

20. What does diversity mean to you? Is it something you actively encourage in your reading, watching, listening, and living patterns?

21. Can one person make a significant difference in the world?

Other Resources

Outcasts United website
Random House lesson plans
Warren St. John on NPR
CBS coverage of Outcasts United
Sports Illustrated article on Luma

If you liked Outcasts United, try…

In the Sea There are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda
The Ball is Round by David Goldblatt
Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof

In the Sea There are Crocodiles book cover     the Ball is Round book coverHalf the Sky book cover

Book Discussion Questions: The Confession by John Grisham

the Confession book cover

SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.

Title: The Confession
Author: John Grisham
Page Count: 418
Genre: Legal thriller
Tone: Fast-paced, suspenseful, dramatic

Questions composed by MPPL Staff

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2013 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. When you first met Travis Boyette, what race did you think he was? John Grisham doesn’t mention it when he introduces Boyette. What do you think this assumption means?

2. One of the writing devices John Grisham uses is “summary briefs” where he uses court record summaries for back story. What did you think of this writing technique?

3. In Chapter 4, Joey Gamble admits to Private Investigator Fred Pryor that he lied to the police in an anonymous tip off that Donté was the killer, but he won’t sign an affidavit saying so. Why won’t Joey sign an affidavit?

4. In Chapter 5, Travis Boyette confesses to killing Nicole Yarber to the Reverend. What was Reverend Schroeder’s reaction to the confession? What was yours?

5. Why do you think Travis Boyette was willing to confess to the Reverend, but not to the police?

6. Reeva Yarber, the mother of the victim, is a rather loud, confrontational woman. What did you think of her and how she handled her daughter’s death? Is there a right or wrong way to handle the violent death of a child?

7. Detective Kerber, Reeva and others continually refer to Donté as “boy”. What was your reaction to the use of the word “boy”? What cultural connotations does that word carry?

8. Several reverends in Slone want to meet with the mayor to warn him of possible race riots if Donté is executed. Why are they worried about race riots occurring?

9. In Chapter 7, Donté’s confession is revealed. Why do you think Donté confessed?

10. Do you think false confessions are real? Are they an occurrence of the past or do you think they still go on?

11. When Reverend Keith Schroeder first calls Donté’s lawyer to report that he knows who the real killer is, Robbie Flak ignores his call. Why? (p. 103)

12. Since Donté has been put on death row, he’s gotten multiple marriage proposals from women who’ve never met him before. What’s that all about?

13. Is it more expensive for the state to house a prisoner or to execute them? (p. 108)

14. Travis Boyette disappeared and the Reverend finally found him in a hospital. Boyette tells the Reverend to leave his hospital room and not come back. Why won’t Travis film a confession from the hospital?

15. What was Donté’s prison experience like?

16. Do you think being kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day constitutes as cruel and unusual punishment?

17. Did Donté ever have hope of getting out of prison? If so, when did he lose that hope? What did that look like?

18. Travis Boyette calls Keith Schroeder in the middle of the night. Travis wants Keith to drive him to Texas. What is Keith’s reaction to this? What is his wife’s reaction? What would your reaction have been?

19. When Keith and Travis are driving to Texas, we finally get to hear some of Travis’ back story. Why do you think Grisham gave us the convict’s back story? Did it make you realize anything about the character?

20. Boyette says, “Prisons are hate factories, Pastor, and society wants more of them. It ain’t working.” (p. 208) What does Boyette mean? Does Keith agree? Do you agree?

21. What did Donté pick as his last meal? Why?

22. Did Donté’s last petition get filed in time? Why or why not? How did this make you feel? (p. 310)

23. Why did Governor Gill Newton continually deny Donté a reprieve? (p. 332)

24. Donté was executed. Did it surprise you that Grisham followed through on this? Why do you think Grisham didn’t save his character?

25. Keith is warned he might lose his job for disgracing his current congregation with a possible criminal record. Does this end up mattering to him? Why or why not?

26. On page 471 it says, “…Lazarus, like most blacks in Slone, had never trusted the police.” Why do you think most of the African Americans in Slone didn’t trust the police? Is there a racial divide in who trusts the police and who doesn’t in real life? Why do you think Grisham would point this out?

27. Is Travis caught in the end? How? Were you surprised at his actions?

28. Did this book end the way you wanted it to?

29. Did John Grisham have an agenda with this novel? What was it? Did this book change the way you see the American justice system?

30. Do you believe in the death penalty?

Other Resources

John Grisham’s website
Lit Lovers book discussion questions
John Grisham on ABC
John Grisham at BEA
Death Penalty Information Center
False confession Wikipedia entry
Photos from Death Row at Polunsky in Texas
The Innocence Project website

If you liked The Confession, try…

Quest for Justice: Defending the Damned by Richard S. Jaffe
Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult
The Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth L. Silver

     the execution of noa p. singleton book cover