Check It Out Category: Book Discussion Questions

Book Discussion Questions: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

We Need to Talk About Kevin book coverSPOILER 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

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.    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?

Other Resources:

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
The Guardian with Lionel Shriver
Lionel Shriver with The Independent: We need to talk about massacres
Genetic Basis for Crime” article in The New York Times

If you liked We Need to Talk About Kevin, try…

Room by Emma Donoghue
The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing
The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe

Room book cover     Fifth Child book coverButcher Boy book cover


Book Discussion Questions: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

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

Title: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
Author: Laura Hillenbrand
Page Count: 473
Genre: Nonfiction – Biography
Tone: Inspirational, adventurous, engaging

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.  Was there something special about Louie that could be seen at an early age or did his actions reflect more on a style of parenting? (e.g., climbing out the window and running down the street as a two year old with pneumonia or jumping off the train to California)

2.  Louie moved from being a rambunctious toddler into what some would call a delinquent. Did you find it difficult to empathize with Louie given his devious behavior?

3.  Do you think in today’s society Louie would face more trouble with the law or school authorities as a young person?

4.  What are the ways in which Louie’s childhood prepared him for his time in the war?

5.  What impact did seeing the German dirigible Graf Zepplin have on Louie as a12-year-old boy? Why did Hillenbrand choose to open the book with this image?

6.  If his older brother Pete had not come up with a plan to get him into track, would Louie’s life have been different? How?

7. Did the Great Depression prepare Louie, and perhaps others of his generation, to persevere through the great hardships they would later face in the war?

8.  Why did young Louie long to be a cowboy?

9.  How was Louie able to set the NCAA record for the mile with a cracked rib, cut shins, and a bloody foot?

10.  What did you take away from Louie’s time on the boat to Berlin? Can you believe he gained 12 pounds eating the almost unlimited amount of food?

11.  Louie came in 7th place at the Berlin Olympics, but had such a fast stride at the end that Hitler wanted to meet him. What did you think of this experience?

12.  Do you think Louie would’ve broken the 4-minute mile if it hadn’t been for the war?

13.  How many of you knew Zamperini survived? Did that affect your reading of the book?

14.  Did anyone find it unusual that Louie had so many photographs of these different times in his life, especially the war photos?

15.  When Louie, Phil, and the crew of Superman returned from their first mission, they found that their friends’ plane crashed on take-off and the entire crew was killed. How did this affect Louie’s view of the war?

16.  Were you surprised the majority of Army Air Force casualties in World War II were due to accidents? (p. 80)

17.  After Superman’s dramatic return from Nauru, the plane was barely intact. Louie attributed the crew’s survival not only to Phil’s expert flying, but to the plane itself. How important was it that the crew knew how to fly their specific plane?

18.  Why did the lieutenant ask the men to take the Green Hornet on the search mission, in spite of their misgivings that it wasn’t airworthy?

19.  What devices did Zamperini and others use to survive and maintain their sanity during their time on the raft and in the POW camp?

20.  What explains how Louie and Pete were able to survive on the raft while Mac, who seemed to have no physical injuries, did not? Are survival skills learned or inherent?

21.  Why were many of the Japanese who first found Louie and Pete kind to them? Why were they surprised that the men had been fired on in their raft?

22.  What do you find the most horrifying about Louie’s captivity? Were you aware of the biological experiments the Japanese were conducting on POWs and civilians alike?

23.  Why didn’t the guards kill the prisoners when they knew the end was in sight for Japan?

24.  Do you think there is less of a focus on Japan’s role in historical accounts of WWII than on Germany’s? If so, why would that be?

25.  How was Japan able to reinvent itself after WWII? Has Germany been able to reinvent itself as well?

26.  How was Louie able to readjust to life after the war? How was he able to overcome the struggles that were common to many veterans such as alcoholism and depression?

27.  It wasn’t until the 1980s that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was identified as a legitimate condition. Why did this diagnosis take so long to be recognized?

28.  Which do you think was more responsible for Louie’s drastic life change, the idea that his wife was going to leave him or his attending the Billy Graham revival?

29.  What role did Jimmy Sasaki play in the book and in Louie’s life? Why was he on campus at USC when Louie was in college and what did he do when he showed up at the POW camp? (p. 357)

30.  How was Louie able to forgive The Bird and his other captors? How did you feel about the punishments the guards received after WWII?  What happened to The Bird?

31.  Like Louie, Bill Harris survived the war and the Japanese POW camp. Why do you think he chose to remain in the military? What do you think happened to him when he went missing in Korea?

32.  Did you learn something new from this book?

33.  Were there parts of the story you found difficult to believe?

34.  What did you think of Hillenbrand’s style of writing? Was there anything you didn’t like in the writing or anything you wished Hillenbrand would’ve covered more deeply?

35.  Are you familiar with Hillenbrand’s own health struggles (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)? Did you know she was unable to leave her house for more than two years while she wrote this book? She tells The New York Times:

“Writing is a godsend to me that way. Without it I wouldn’t have anything. I am completely still almost all the time. A lot of time I don’t leave the upstairs. What I have is the story I’m working on. It’s a wonderful thing for me to get out of my body for a while.”

How, if at all, does this affect her writing?

36.  What does Unbroken add to the already voluminous collection of WWII research? What value is there, or is there any at all, in telling the story of one man’s experience in the war?

37.  Tom Brokaw coined the term “The Greatest Generation” to refer to people from Louie’s time who came of age during the Great Depression, fought during WWII, and took care of the homefront. Is this moniker accurate?

38.  Why did Hillenbrand include this quote from Walt Whitman’s The Wound-Dresser, “What stays with you latest and deepest? Of curious panics, of hard-fought engagements or sieges tremendous, what deepest remains?”  What do you think are the “deepest remains” for Louie Zamperini?

Other Resources:

Laura Hillenbrand’s website
Laura Hillenbrand interviewed by NPR
Laura Hillenbrand interviewed by the Kenyon Collegian
Louis Zamperini interviewed by CBS
Louis Zamperini in discussion at USC Annenberg
New York Magazine review of Unbroken
The Wall Street Journal review of Unbroken

If you liked Unbroken, try…

Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder
A Higher Call by Adam Makos
Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff

Strength in What Remains book cover      A Higher Call book cover

Book Discussion Questions: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go book cover

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

Title: Never Let Me Go
Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Page Count: 288
Genre: Science Fiction
Tone: Complex, suspenseful, 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.    In one interview, Ishiguro observes that in many reviews of Never Let Me Go, the words “strange” or “sinister” keep coming up. Do these words reflect your experience with the book? What other words would you use?

2.    Ishiguro, on the other hand, claims he thinks of this as his “most cheerful book.” Why do you think that is?

Ishiguro: “In the past, I had written about characters’ failings…With NLMG I felt that for the first time I had given myself permission to focus on the positive aspects of human beings. OK, they might be flawed. They might be prone to the usual human emotions like jealousy and pettiness and so on. But I wanted to show three people who were essentially decent. When they finally realize their time is limited, I wanted them…to care most about each other and setting things right. So for me, it was saying positive things about human beings against the rather bleak fact of our mortality.” (The Paris Review)

3.    At what point in the story did you realize the full meaning of “donor” and “complete”?

4.    One of the most common criticisms of the story is that the students never take action to change their fate. Did this bother you? How do you respond to the author’s explanation of his choice:

“It’s something I do instinctively in my writing,” says Ishiguro “and with this book it was a very important feature that escape was not an option. It’s about how we’re all aware of our fate, in that we have a limited time in life. Escape isn’t an issue in the book, because it’s never really an option in our own lives. Characters like Stevens and the kids in Never Let Me Go do what we all do; try to give meaning to our lives by fulfilling some sort of duty.”

5.    Kathy’s narration is a key to the novel’s disquieting effect. Was the choice of Kathy’s perspective a wise one? How would the novel be different if narrated from Tommy’s point of view, or Ruth’s, or even Miss Emily’s?

6.    What are some of Ruth’s most striking character traits? How might her social behavior, at Hailsham and later at the Cottages, be explained? Why does she seek her “possible” so earnestly?

7.    Art is a recurring motif throughout Never Let Me Go. In which scenes is art a topic? What is the importance to the students as children? As adults? To the story’s themes?

8.    Speaking of love, what is the importance of the myth of deferral – both to the students and to the narrative? As you read, did you have hope that this was a real possibility for them?

9.    Why do you think there was so much attention given to sexual urges and relationships? Is it simply because the story focuses on adolescents and young adults, or is there another explanation?

10.    How is the students’ inability to have children significant?

11.    What is the significance of the title?

12.    What were your reactions to the meeting with Miss Emily and Madame?

13.    Is it surprising that Miss Emily admits feeling revulsion for the children at Hailsham?

14.    What is the book saying about childhood? Think about this, too, in the context of Miss Lucy, who wanted to make the children more aware of the future that awaited them. In contrast, Miss Emily claims they were able to give them something precious – “we gave you your childhoods” (p. 268).  In the context of the story as a whole, is this a valid argument?

15.    One the distinguishing features of Ishiguro’s novels is his prose style. How would you characterize his writing? How did you respond to it?

16.    If you have seen the recent movie adaptation, what impressed you? What disappointed you? Which did you find more poignant?

17.    Did this novel surprise you? Would you be open to reading another like it? Are there similar books you might suggest?

Other Resources:

Abe Books discussion questions
Lit Lovers discussion questions
Kazuo Ishiguro interviewed by Allan Gregg
Book review by The Guardian
Book review by The New York Times
Ethics of cloning Wikipedia page
Trailer for movie adaptation

If you liked Never Let Me Go, try…

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Beyond Black by Hillary Mantel
The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

Oryx and Crake book cover     Beyond Black book coverthe Leftovers book cover

Book Discussion Questions: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

The Big Sleep 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 Big Sleep
Author: Raymond Chandler
Page Count: 249
Genre: Mystery, Pulp Fiction
Tone: Witty, Gritty, Fast-paced

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 Chandler’s constant barrage of setting details?

2.    Do you think General Sternwood had given up on being a parent? What would you have done differently?

3.    Vivian visits Marlowe’s office to try and figure out if he is looking for her husband. Why doesn’t she just go to her father?

4.    Vivian tells Marlowe, “People don’t talk to me that way.” (p. 19) What does this tell us about Vivian? What does this tell us about Marlowe?

5.    Marlow comes in contact with thugs, lowlifes, cops and the rich. Does he speak to everybody the same?

6.    Marlowe seems almost unmovable. Almost. What are some examples of Marlowe being human?

-p. 61, Marlowe blushes after Vivian leaves
-p. 190, interaction with Eddie Mars’ wife

7.    Do you count The Big Sleep as a classic of American literature? Why or why not?

8.    What makes a character classic?

9.    What are the charms of Marlowe?

10.    Do you think Phillip Marlowe has an equal in crime fiction?

11.    Did you see Marlowe as Humphrey Bogart?

12.    Who could play Marlowe in this day and age?

13.    What did you think of Carmen?

14.    Is Carmen not very smart or does she have health issues that can account for her behavior?

15.    Rusty Regan, the missing, bootlegging husband, always carried 15 grand on his person. What does that say about him?

16.    Why do you think Chandler never lets us see Rusty Regan, alive or dead?

17.    What does it say about Phillip Marlowe that he carries a gun and a bottle of rye in his glove compartment?

18.    When you read the book, did you see it in black and white in your mind? Color?

19.    Why would Vivian “loath masterful men?” (p. 20)

20.    Did Carmen getting the drop on Marlowe  surprise you? (p. 210)

21.    Eddie Mars’ wife says she still loves her husband, even knowing what a criminal he is. (p. 196) Were you bothered by her stance? Why?

22.    If you could go back to 1939, would you want Marlowe’s job? What job would you want?

23.    What does it say about Marlowe that he is a private investigator instead of a police officer?

24.    Did the slang ever bother you?

25.    Is everybody (men and women) a smooth talker in The Big Sleep?

26.    Any favorite quotes from the book?

27.    On page 48, the doctor can’t easily tell Owen Taylor’s time of death. How would this bit of information help establish the novel’s era?

28.    There ended up being a good number of characters and quite a few of them dead. Did you ever have trouble following along?

29.    One of Chandler’s most famous quotes is, “When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.” (The quote originates from “The Simple Art of Murder,” found as an introduction essay to his novel of the same name.) Did you see examples of that in The Big Sleep? Is this a good writing practice?

30.    Think of characters and their status levels. Is there any social critique within The Big Sleep?

31.    Do women have power in this story? If so, what kind?

32.    How does Marlowe see women?

33.    Does Marlowe have a code of honor?

34.    Some of Raymond Chandler’s biggest literary influences were Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway and Henry James. Do you see any connections in his work to these authors?

-Ex: Dickens wrote convoluted plots, Hemingway wrote in short, to the point sentences, and James wrote in very dark tones

35.    What influence do you think Chandler has had on crime novels?

Other Resources:

Raymond Chandler’s website
Extra discussion questions on Spark Notes
Wikipedia page on pulp fiction
Ian Fleming interviews Raymond Chandler
Raymond Chandler’s 1945 essay for The Atlantic about writing in Hollywood
Original 1939 New York Times book review of The Big Sleep
Extra books on Chandler: Raymond Chandler: A Biography  and The Raymond Chandler Papers

If you liked The Big Sleep, try…

L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy
The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett
I, the Jury by Mickey Spillane

L.A. Confidential book cover     the Thin Man book coverI the Jury book cover

Book Discussion Questions: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

In Cold Blood book cover

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

Title: In Cold Blood
Author: Truman Capote
Page Count: 343
Genre: Nonfiction – True Crime
Tone: Bleak, Sobering

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.    Did anyone look up the French epigraph at the beginning of the book? Francois Villon, “Ballade des Pendus,” translates to:

Human brothers who live after us,
Do not have (your) hearts hardened against us,
For, if you take pity on us poor (fellows),
God will sooner have mercy on you.

What do you think Capote meant, using this as the epigraph?

2.    Why do you think Truman Capote introduced the town first, then the Clutters and then the murderers?

3.    Do you like Mr. Clutter and his family when you meet them?

4.    What is your first impression of Perry and Dick?

5.    What about the Clutters? Did you feel like you knew them?

6.    On page 37, Dick boasts that nothing can go wrong. Was he prepared or naïve?

7.    When you read a quote like “Ain’t that what I promised you, honey – plenty of hair on them-those walls?” (p. 37) What does it make you feel towards Dick?

8.    How does Capote build suspense in In Cold Blood?

9.    Capote goes back and forth in chapters between the Clutters and the murderers. Then Capote goes back and forth from the police and the murderers. Why? Was this an effective way to tell a story?

10.    What did you think of Capote’s use of direct quotes?

11.    Did this read like other nonfiction books you’ve read? Why or why not?

12.    What does the term “nonfiction novel” mean?

13.    Do you think Capote gave a fair amount of time to all characters involved?

14.    Who seemed like the worse criminal, Dick or Perry? Do you think that had anything to do with Capote’s writing style?

15.    Perry admits to thinking that they are “wrong,” but Dick continually calls himself a “normal.” (p. 109) What do you think this says about each of the men?

16.    Who do you pity in this story?

17.    Does it change your opinion of Perry to know that he was a veteran (page 128) or to know that he was sexually abused (p. 133)?

18.    How did the police get their big break in the case?

19.    Do you think Floyd Wells felt bad about telling Dick about the Clutter family?

20.    What did you think of Dick’s family’s reaction to hearing that he was a murderer?

21.    When Dick and Perry are caught, who breaks to the cops first? Why?

22.    Was there a specific moment that scared you with either criminal?

23.    If a horrible crime happened in your town, would you talk to a dedicated writer about it?

24.    Was there a passage of this book that was harder to read than others?

25.    Do you believe that the farmhand Stoecklein didn’t hear the four gunshots next door?

26.    What did you think of the insurance man’s reaction to hearing of Mr. Clutter’s death? (p. 71)

27.    What did you think of Dick and Perry’s reactions to murdering four people? (p. 73 – 74, p. 91)

28.    Nye says, “Nobody would kill four people for fifty bucks,” (p. 87). Do you think this is true today? Do you think it was true then?

29.    What did you think of Josie and Wendle Meier? Josie showed calm and caring. Could you have showed that to either Dick or Perry? Would you have?

30.    Don Cullivan, an old Army buddy of Perry’s, comes to visit. Why?

31.    Perry changed his statement to say he murdered everybody. Why?

32.    Do you think there is a difference between reading a true crime book and reading a violent fiction book? Do you feel different while reading one as compared to the other?

33.    Was there a section that moved slower than others?

34.    Did you like where the book stopped at? Would you have wanted its ending to have come sooner?

35.    Do you think Capote did this town good or a disservice by writing In Cold Blood?

36.    Do you believe in the death penalty?

37.    Do you think Dick and Perry “got what they deserved?”

38.    Perry didn’t believe in the death penalty, he said, “I think it’s a helluva thing to take a life in this manner. I don’t believe in capital punishment, morally or legally.” (p. 340) How did this strike you?

39.    What did you think of each man’s last words?

-Perry p. 340
-Dick p. 339

40.    Do you think Capote believed in capital punishment? (Answer found here.)

Other Resources:

Truman Capote Wikipedia entry
Lit Lovers’ book discussion guide
George Plimpton interview with Truman Capote
Paris Review interview of Truman Capote
Original New York Times article that inspired Truman Capote to write In Cold Blood

If you liked In Cold Blood, try…

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
Columbine by David Cullen
The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil book cover      Columbine book cover     the Executioner's Song book cover

And! Please speak with one of our friendly reference librarians about finding original articles from 1966 about the Clutter family killings in our Chicago Tribune Historical database. The pictures alone make the articles good handouts for book discussion groups.