Check It Out Category: Book Discussion Questions

Book Discussion Questions: The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

The Boston Girl book cvoerTitle: The Boston Girl
Author: Anita Diamant
Page Count: 322 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Tone: Dramatic, Reflective

Summary:
Recounting the story of her life to her granddaughter, octogenarian Addie describes how she was raised in early-twentieth-century America by Jewish immigrant parents in a teeming multicultural neighborhood.

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

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement: 2017 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1) When Aaron courts Addie, he says he’s going to turn her into a real Boston girl by taking her to the symphony, Red Sox game, and Harvard Yard. Where would you take someone to turn them into a real Chicago girl?

2) One definition of historical fiction says that the goal of historical fiction is to bring history to life in novel form. Did Diamant succeed?

3)Did you learn something from The Boston Girl?

4) What impression do you think would you get of the United States if you were from another country and reading this book?

5) Where the characters beliefs and mannerisms appropriate for the time?

6) Diamant titled the book The Boston Girl. With what you know about Boston, do you think her life would have played out the same way in another city? How important is location to the story line?

7) How would you describe it the tone and style of The Boston Girl? Did that work for you as a reader?

8) Addie’s granddaughter asks her what made her the woman she is today. Addie’s answer is a monologue. Would The Boston Girl have been as effective told in a different way?

Diamant says that she was concerned that Addie’s story leading to a happy marriage might be too small and mundane to keep readers turning the pages. From Diamant: “But once I made Addie the narrator, I realized- or remembered- that we don’t experience history in the abstract; we live inside of it. Addie experiences the momentous events of the early 20th century at eye level. A girl bobs her hair. A veteran of the Great War collapses on the beach. A friend dies because she ignores the warnings about the flu epimic and goes dancing. In Addie’s life, the geopolitical is personal, the immigrant success sage is hantued by loss and despair: war and disease are tests of reliance, even for those on the sidelines. Even for those who survive.”

9) What national or global events happened during Addie’s lifetime?

10) Which ones does she mention? Do you feel she was deeply affected by them?

11) If you were retelling your life story, what weight would you give large scale events?

12) Some critics unfavorably compared this to The Red Tent, which has a more serious mood and is told in the third person. Do you think literary fiction is as effective when the tone is cheerful? Why or why not?

13) Describe Addie’s mom. Are Addie and her sisters equally affected by her?

14) Celia was the most loved by Mameh and had her whole family’s love. She married Levine, a kind man. Why do you think Celia found life so very difficult?

15) Her other sister, Betty, is described by Addie as the most like her mom. What made Addie say that? Do you agree? Did your feelings for Betty change as the story progressed?

16) How would you describe Addie? What do you think made her able to stand up to her mom?

17) This is how Addie describes her father: “I didn’t know my father very well. It wasn’t like today, where fathers change diapers and read books to their children. When I was growing up, men worked all day, and when they came home we were supposed to be quiet and leave them alone.” It seems as if Addie absolves her father of responsibility to his family because of the times. Do you agree? Was he at all to blame for the home dynamic?

18) How does Addie’s world begin to expand beyond her home?

19) Who were some of the people who gave her a chance? Do you have a favorite, or one character that you think made the biggest difference in her life?

20) She had a lot of good fortune with the people she met- people willing to give her friendship, learning opportunities, vacation destinations, and jobs. Was this a realistic portrayal of life for a young female, Jewish daughter of immigrants? Is it within the realm of possibility?

21) Some people Addie mentions were definitely not friends, but she included them in her answer to Ava about how she became the woman she is today. One of them was her first romantic interest, Harold, “the wolf.” Why do you think she told her granddaughter about him? Why do you think she continued to see Harold?

22)Addie says, “I’m still embarrassed and mad at myself. But after seventy years, I also feel sorry for the girl I used to be. She was awfully hard on herself.” What does she mean?

23) It’s actually Harold who calls her, “My favorite Boston girl.” (p 82) If you were going to call yourself _______boy/girl, how would you fill in the blank?

24) Addie’s next boyfriend is Ernie. She doesn’t seem too emotional about him, and decided to let him go, so why do you think he is included in her story about what shaped her? What did she learn from him?

25) Addie says that many young women were focused on getting married. What do you believe she was focused on?

26) The chapter where Addie meets her future husband, Aaron Metsky, is entitled “Never apologize for being smart.” What connections do you make between the title and Addie and Aaron’s relationship?

27) Addie spends more time talking about her jobs along the way: cleaning for the summer, working for her brother in law, the newspaper office than she does about her current job. How were these experiences important enough to relay to her granddaughter?

28) Addie tries on pants for the first time (p.108) when she and Filomena visit Leslie and Morelli. Addie says, “It makes me want to try riding a bicycle and ice skating and all kinds of things.” Leslie asks what other kinds of things and Addie answers, “I’d go to college.” Do you believe that clothes so powerfully affect what a person feels capable of doing?

29) Would you say Addie had a blessed life, or a difficult one?

30) Based on Ava’s question at the beginning of the book, “What made you the woman you are today?”, how would you speculate Ava saw her grandmother?

31) Addie answers through a book’s worth of stories. If you were to sum it up, what made Addie the woman she is today?

Want help with your book discussion group? Check out tips, advice, and all the ways the Library can help support your group!

Other Resources:

Reading Group Guide from publisher
Washington Post book review
Q&A with Anita Diamant
Anita Diamant interview with Jewish Book Council
Biography of Anita Diamant

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Book Discussion Questions: Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Tell the Wolves I'm Home book coverTitle: Tell the Wolves I’m Home
Author: Carol Rifka Brunt
Page Count: 360 pages
Genre: Coming-of-age
Tone: Moving, Atmospheric

Summary:
Her world upended by the death of a beloved artist uncle who was the only person who understood her, fourteen-year-old June is mailed a teapot by her uncle’s grieving friend, with whom June forges a poignant relationship.

 

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

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement: 2017 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1) June is sensitive, self-aware, and imaginative. How do these qualities affect her skills as a narrator? How does first-person narration in this book help you feel connected to June?

2) How do you feel about books told from the perspective of a child or teen? Does this perspective work well in Tell the Wolves I’m Home? (Is a story limited or enhanced when told from child’s p.o.v.?)

3) How do the characters’ actions reflect the attitudes toward HIV/AIDS in the mid-1980s? Has this element of fear and stigma changed with increased public knowledge?

4) This book won an ALA Alex Award in 2013, which is an award for adult books with special appeal to teens, and was given Adult Book for Teen/YA distinction from at least two major book reviews (Booklist and School Library Journal). What is it about this book that would be of interest to teens?

5) Why is Finn so special to June? How does he understand her in ways that others don’t?

6) What do you think of June’s feelings for Finn? Do you think it is unusual for a teenager to develop a strong attachment to a relative?

7) What are June’s initial motives for meeting with Toby? How does she move beyond her initial feelings of hate and distrust? As their friendship develops, how would you describe their connection?

8) As June gets to know Toby, she discovers things she hadn’t known about Finn before and questions how well she actually knew him. What do you think — Should she doubt her closeness to Finn? How much information do you believe is necessary to fully know a person?

9) Do you find it believable that Finn would hide his partner Toby from the family? Why did he do this? If this book was set in 2017, do you think this would have been different?

10) Do you think Toby was a good friend for June? Did their relationship end up being what Finn had hoped would occur after his passing?

11) How did you respond to the portrayal of June’s relationship with Greta? Do you believe one was more to blame than the other for their drifting apart? Beyond their sibling rivalry, what are their similarities and differences? What is the outlook for their relationship at the end of the book?

12) Think about the title of the book, and painting; what does the wolf symbolize for June? For Finn? And other characters?

13) What is it about the medieval era that appeals to June? What other types of escapism does she pursue? Think about the other characters – are they also in their own little world one way or another?

14) In an interview with BookTalk podcast (10/7/15), Brunt said she’s not a fan of villains being in a story. Do you believe there are any villains in Tell the Wolves I’m Home?

15) How did the 1980s references contribute to the book’s setting? (news stories, popular culture, consumer goods)

16) June writes of her self-doubt many times. She is afraid of appearing stupid and is highly aware of the limitations of her knowledge. She struggles with identifying what it is that people see in her (what she means to others). How has June changed by the end of the book? Is she a stronger person? Is she more sure of her place in the world?

17) In her interview with BookPage, Brunt said “the gift of the novel lies in the emotional connection it can provide” (vs. nonfiction). “A novel has the ability to put the reader right inside a character, to let the reader understand the way another person thinks and feels. So, that’s my mission as a novelist—to use the novel to emotionally connect with readers.” Did she succeed? Did you connect with June and perhaps with other characters too? Who did you connect with the most and why?

Want help with your book discussion group? Check out tips, advice, and all the ways the Library can help support your group!

Other Resources:

Reader’s Guide for Tell the Wolves I’m Home
Author website, includes an inspiration gallery
Bookpage interview with Carol Rifka Brunt
NY Daily News interview with Carol Rifka Brunt
Carol Rifka Brunt discusses her work (video)

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Book Discussion Questions: Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

Ordinary Grace book coverTitle: Ordinary Grace
Author:  William Kent Krueger
Page Count: 307 pages
Genre:  Mystery, Psychological fiction
Tone:  Melancholy, Nostalgic, Strong sense of place

Summary:
Looking back at a tragic event that occurred during his 13th year, a man explores how a complicated web of secrets, adultery and betrayal shattered his Methodist family and their small 1961 Minnesota community.

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

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2017 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. In Robert Kennedy’s eulogy to John F. Kennedy he used the phrase “Awful grace of God.” This phrase was used several times in this novel. What do you think is the meaning?

2. Do you believe as Aeschylus said, “He who learns must suffer”?

3. Why do you think Jake’s stutter permanently disappeared after he gave grace?

4. What does ordinary grace mean to you?

5. Who do you consider the main character in this book?

6. Without the war, what path do you think Nathan would have ended up taking career wise?

7. What do you think drew Jake and Lise together?

8. Do you think Emil was still in love with Ruth and vice-versa?

9. When the body of the itinerant was found Frank downplayed Jake’s presence and that upset Jake. However, when Emil Brandt tried to kill himself Frank tried to turn Jake into the hero and that really upset Jake. Why?

10. Why do you think the author never actually told us what happened in the war that changed Nathan so much?

11. Ruth did not seem to care for Gus very much in the beginning of the story, yet her attitude toward him seemed to change by the end. Why do you think that was?

12. Jake said he is afraid that his mom won’t come back. I mean she might come home, but she won’t come back (pg 260).  What did he mean by that?

13. When Frankie was accusing Emil Brandt of killing Ariel, Jake asked if it really matters who killed her. What did you think about that?

14. What did you think of Warren Redstone?  Why did he keep all those trinkets in his can?

15. Why do you think he was in jail?

16. Why didn’t Frank tell anyone about Warren’s connection to the dead man?

17. Jake said “There are somethings you can’t run from. You can’t run from who you are.  You can leave everything behind except who you are” (pg 265).  Is that true?

18. What did you think about how it ended? What happened to all of the characters?

19. On the first page, as Frank is talking about the events that were to happen, he says “You might think that I remember that summer as tragic and I do, but not completely.” After having finished the novel, what do you think of that statement?

Want help with your book discussion group? Check out tips, advice, and all the ways the Library can help support your group!

OTHER RESOURCES:

Reading group guide provided by Simon and Schuster
Lit Lovers’ discussion questions
New York Journal of Books review
Q&A with William Kent Krueger
Interview with William Kent Krueger (video)

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Book Discussion Questions: Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

Our Souls at Night book coverTitle:  Our Souls at Night
Author:  Kent Haruf
Page Count: 179 pages
Genre:  Literary Fiction, Love Stories
Tone:  Reflective, Bittersweet, Moving

Summary:
In Holt, Colorado, widower Louis Waters is initially thrown when the widowed Addie Moore suggests that they spend time together, in bed, to stave off loneliness, but soon they are exchanging confidences and memories.

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

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2017 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Imagine yourself a resident of Holt. If you discovered (or suspected) the evening visits, would you have an opinion? What if you were a member of the family?

2. The first sentences read, “And then there was the day when Addie Moore made a call on Louis Waters. It was an evening in May just before full dark.” In your opinion, how effective is this as a first line? What does it convey?

  1. 3. Is it significant that the proposal was at Addie’s instigation rather than Louis’s? How so? What would have been different in the story otherwise?

4. Does this proposal seem outrageous to you? Understandable? Was it brave?

5. Ruth says of Louis, “But he’s no saint. He’s caused his share of pain.” Did that surprise you at the time? Is it better for the story than Louis isn’t a saint?

6. The arrangement is a chance for these two individuals to revisit with each other what has happened in their pasts. What is the appeal of this? Which of those memories made the biggest impact on their relationship? On you as a reader?

7. How interesting is it for a reader to just listen in on characters’ conversations? Is it a talent of the author to make this interesting? Did you want something more to happen?

8. Do the characters think of this relationship as casual? At what point do you think the relationship became more for Addie? For Louis?

9. Was it inevitable that their relationship became sexual? Did you want it to? Were you surprised how deep into the story we were before it did?

10. We see strong instances of their children reproaching the parents about this arrangement. What did you think of that?

11. Gene could arguably be a villain in this story. What did you think of him? Was he at all justified in his concerns or actions?

12. How did the introduction of Jamie change their relationship? Of Bonny?

13. Contrast their interactions with Jamie to what we know of their relationships with their own children.

14. In one passage, Louis confesses:

I think I regret hurting Tamara more than I do hurting my wife. I failed my spirit or something. I missed some kind of call to be something more than a mediocre high school English teacher in a little dirt-blown town.

What does this tell us about Louis? Does it affect your view of him?

15. In what places of the story did you find humor?

16. Gene gives an ultimatum. Did Addie make the right choice? Is there a ‘right’ choice?

17. Later, Addie calls (again, her initiative) and wants to connect again. At first Louis balks, asking, “isn’t this the sneaking around we didn’t want to do?” What would you have done?

18. Did you want more from the ending? Why did Haruf make this choice?

19. A New York Times review asserts that Haruf’s “great subject was the struggle of decency against small-mindedness, and his rare gift was to make sheer decency a moving subject.” Do you see evidence of this struggle in Our Souls at Night? Again, putting yourself in the place of an observer/family, would you take any issue with the word ‘decency’?

20. This book was written as Haruf knew his time was limited. What did he want most to say? Should this be in our minds as we read? If you knew, did this affect your reading of the story?

21. When undertaking the project, Haruf told his wife Cathy, “I’m going to write a book about us.” What elements do you suspect were autobiographical?

22. Did you find the lack of quotation marks distracting? Why might the author make this choice?

23. Haruf’s style is almost always described as “spare” and his characters “plainspoken”. Are these qualities appealing to you?

24. Do you think his style and chosen setting may have held him back from wider recognition?

25. One writer commented that Our Souls at Night “engages sentiment without becoming sentimental”. What do you think about that statement?

26. Is this a sad or heavy book? How would you describe the feeling to someone else?

27. An upcoming film adaptation stars Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. How does that fit the characters in your mind? Are you interested in viewing the film?

Want help with your book discussion group? Check out tips, advice, and all the ways the Library can help support your group!

OTHER RESOURCES:

Kent Haruf’s Last Novel is a Beautiful Gift” via The Oregonian
Final interview with Kent Haruf courtesy of Denver Center of Performing Arts
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel review and analysis of Our Souls at Night
LitLovers discussion guide
Our Souls at Night competes in the Tournament of Books
Cathy Haruf on Her Husband’s Final Novel” via Knopf Doubleday

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Book Discussion Questions: I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

I Let you go book coverTitle: I Let You Go
Author: Clare Mackintosh
Page Count: 388 pages
Genre: Psychological Suspense
Tone: Atmospheric, Haunting, Gritty

Summary:
Devastated by a hit-and-run accident that has ended the life of her young son, Jenna moves to the remote Welsh coast to search for healing while two dedicated policemen try to get to the bottom of the case.

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

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2017 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. This is Clare Mackintosh’s debut novel. In what ways did this book include autobiographical elements? How did it make her story more believable?

2. If you had to describe what kind of book this was, what would it be?

3. What other books that you have read that might seem similar to I Let You Go?

4. What did you think of the pacing of the book? Did it remain consistent throughout?

5. Let’s talk about style. How does the way this story is told differ from most novels? How does this style make the story work?

6. What ten words would you use to describe the characters Ian, Jenna, and Patrick?

7. How would you characterize Ray, Mags, and Kate and their relationships? Why are work relationships prone to romance or infidelity?

8. Which characters do you have a visual image of in your mind?

9. How did the author bring the settings alive? Describe some of the settings from what you remember.

10. This novel was released first in Britain and the author lives in North Wales. If you didn’t know that how did the story give you a hint? Did you find some of the language and police titles and procedures confusing? Was it off putting?

11. Do you think the author understood domestic violence well? How did that come across in her writing? How did this book give you a peek into how an abused woman might think and feel?

12. How do you see Ian grooming Jenna and the control and abuse starting? Give examples.

13. Who tried to warn Jenna about Ian before their marriage? Why didn’t Jenna listen? Why didn’t Eve or Jenna’s mother ever tell Jenna the truth about her father?

14. How does the abuser view his abusive actions? Where is the responsibility placed?

15. How does the victim view their being abused? Where is the responsibility placed?

16. What was the huge twist in the middle of the story? How did the author fool you?

17. The author had Jenna writing names and messages in the sand and photographing them. What were the practical reasons of why Jenna did this? What were some of the messages? How could her writing names and messages be seen as symbolic?

18. How did Ian feel about the baby and Jenna’s pregnancy at the beginning? What changed as time went on? What did Ian do? Who takes the blame? When does Jenna begin to put the blame on Ian?

19. Who was driving the car that killed Jacob? Why did it happen? Who felt responsible and why?

20. What were some of the many choices Jenna made throughout the story? What are the consequences of those choices?

21. Near the end Patrick is talking to Jenna after she is released and the trial is over. Why did Jenna confess to killing Jacob and almost go to prison?

22. Did you like the ending?  Why did the author make is ambiguous?

23. Are there any other loose ends in this novel or things that weren’t believable?

OTHER RESOURCES:

Book club kit from the publisher
Book of the Month discussion forum
Article: “The True Events That Inspired ‘I Let You Go'”
Kirkus Review for I Let You Go
BBC Breakfast video interview
Informal interview on Google Hangout

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