For Book Groups
I love book groups. I belong to two myself.
I also love talking with book groups about my novels. There's really nothing better, for an author, than sitting around with people who have read your book and want to discuss it. I'm always amazed at how much I learn from these discussions, sometimes discovering things I never knew I meant when I wrote the book.
Below are discussion questions for my novels. And, if your group decides to read one of my books, I would love to figure out a way to join your conversation, either in person or by Skype or FaceTime. Contact me and let's talk!
Discussion question for Kinship of Clover
1. Jeremy is so concerned about plant species loss that he experiences extinct plants burrowing under his skin to become part of his body. What in his childhood might have contributed to this obsession? How do you understand his Latin chanting? Do you think his episodes are hallucinations or wild imaginings or magical realism or something else?
2. Jeremy and Tim are twins. They grew up in the same household, but have taken very different paths in life. Discuss how they each understand and process their childhood experiences so differently.
3. Sam is a man in the sandwich generation – taking care of his mother and his daughter, both of whom have complicated situations and special needs. How does the truth about his background change his understanding of Flo and Zoe and his interactions with them?
4. As Flo’s mind begins to descend into dementia, she loses control of the secret she has carried for decades. Why do you think that secret was so important to her, given her political opinions and activism? How do you think her women’s group would have responded, if she had shared the secret of Sam’s father with them?
5. Moving into the Memory Unit is stressful for Flo and her family. How do you feel about the care she gets there, and in the hospital? Is this in line with any experiences you might have had with the health care system for people with dementia?
6. At sixteen, Zoe is trying to understand her place in the world as a woman with a disability and as a girl with her first romance. Is her relationship with Jeremy a positive one, given his baggage?
7. Race, and mixed race in particular, play an important role in this novel. Discuss how you think it might affect a person to be part of two races, when there is often tension between them in the wider world. And what might it be like to learn you are biracial later in life?
8. Flo’s long history of left political activism informs how she views the world. Sam has never been interested in her politics, and is somewhat dismissive of them. Do you think her experiences and opinions offer anything of value to Jeremy and Zoe, as they try to figure out how to make necessary change in their world?
9. Flo’s friends, who have met together as a women’s group for decades, want to help her as she faces dementia. Does their support can make a difference?
10. During his time in Brooklyn, Jeremy joins other climate justice activists to plan Earth Day activities and is arrested during a demonstration. How do you think this participation changes his views and inform his plans for the future?
Discussion questions for On Hurricane Island
1. Gandalf Cohen is kidnapped and taken to a civilian detention center, because of her past friendship with a person who might be related to a terrorist. Do you think this kind of treatment of citizens is justified to protect our national security? Do you believe it’s possible that such centers exist in the United States?
2. On Hurricane Island is told from multiple points of view, including a lesbian math professor, a young working class woman, and a rogue FBI agent. Why do you think the author chose these voices and how do they affect the telling of the story?
3. There are scenes in this book that may be difficult to read. How do you feel about the use of graphic violence in fiction? Does it add to authenticity or turn your stomach, or both?
4. Henry is a career FBI agent who has begun to have doubts about his work. Why do you think these questions are growing, after years of commitment to the agency and its methods? He is also a man with a personal secret; does his cross-dressing affect his decision-making?
5. Austin has a lot to lose by helping Gandalf and Norah escape. Why do you think she makes this decision? Does she regret it? How does the experience change her life?
6. The island setting is both a real place and an imagined one. There is a real Hurricane Island, with a deserted quarry, a history of labor unrest, and an old Outward Bound facility. There is no civilian detention center there, and it’s a much smaller place. How much leeway do you think writers should have in re-imagining real places?
7. The subplot about Margaret and her Italian lover is woven through On Hurricane Island, primarily through the device of her letters. What does this back-story, which occurred a century before the main events of the novel, add? Or does it?
8. Tobias is a dedicated FBI agent, motivated by strong feelings of patriotism, but he does some awful things. What do you feel about him as a character? Do you believe him?
9. Austin’s grandparents, Ray and Nettie, are worried about her working at the detention center. How does their concern, and Austin’s mixed feelings about her family history on the island, add to the conflict of this novel?
10. The fury of the hurricane is an important element of this novel. How does the weather contribute to the plot and the emotion of the book?
Discussion Questions for House Arrest
1. Emily and Pippa come from such different backgrounds and have, on the surface, so little in common. What qualities or events lead them to trust each other, against the advice of their families? What do they each have to gain – and to lose – by their friendship?
2. Pippa and the Family of Isis are struggling to keep their family and the Tea Room intact as the newspaper hypes the Frozen Babies Case and anti-cult sentiment escalates in the city. Are they being unfairly vilified, or do you think they deserve such a strong reaction to their unorthodox beliefs and practices?
3. Both Emily and Pippa live in unconventional families, families that have been created in an alternative manner. In what ways, if any, do these family configurations affect their characters and their choices?
4. If Pippa follows the rules of her house arrest, she might be able to keep her baby. Why is she willing to risk that in order to dance at the Solstice ceremony, especially once she accepts her responsibility for Abby’s death and begins to understand the weaknesses of the Family and of Tian?
5. Images of “house” and “home” weave through House Arrest, from Pippa’s commune, to the island tree house, to the spider web on Anna’s porch. How do these disparate images contribute to the themes of the novel?
6. Emily left the island right after high school and until her grandfather’s death has never returned, never dealt with what happened to her parents. Instead she becomes a rather rigid, live-by-the-rules person. What is it about Pippa’s situation and Emily’s return to the island with Anna that allows her to finally grapple with her parents’ choices a generation earlier?
7. The Family of Isis was created out of racial violence and turmoil. How do you think that history has affected their believes and practices, and does it make a difference to the events of the novel?
8. As a nurse, Emily has sworn to do no harm, and she takes her professional responsibilities very seriously. Does she break that oath when she manipulates Pippa’s allergy and lies to the probation officer? Does the end justify the means in this situation?
9. House Arrest is told from the alternating points of view of Emily, Pippa, Sam and Gina. What do these different perspectives add to the novel?
10. Both Emily and Pippa make decisions about their responsibilities to their families, their communities, and to each other – decisions that put their lives, and Pippa’s unborn baby – in jeopardy. Is it sometimes necessary to bend – or break – the rules in order to serve justice?