1. Have you ever created a life list of your own? Like Lori and
Brett, were you lucky enough to come upon it later in life and if
so, did you find anything surprising? Have you managed to
accomplish the majority of your childhood aspirations? How would
your life be different if you'd completed your list in its
entirety? After reading this book, are you in- spired to revisit
and even attempt to realize some of those early goals?
2. Frustrated and discouraged by her mother's final wishes,
Brett exclaims, "Life as I know it has just been shredded! And I'm
supposed to piece it back together in a way that some- some kid
wanted it to be?" Yet Elizabeth was sure all along that Brett would
emerge as a happier, more contented woman if she did a major
overhaul of her life. Do you think the goals we make as children
are still valid into adulthood? Would people generally be better
off getting back in touch with the things that mattered most to
them as adolescents as opposed to the things they think matter most
as adults? Is the shedding of our childhood fancies a necessary
aspect of growing up, or might we be forsaking a fundamental piece
of ourselves in the process?
3. The meaning of family and heredity is a major theme
throughout the novel, especially in terms of how the characters
view their relatedness. At one point, Joad refers to Brett as
Elizabeth's "illegitimate daughter," while he feels disconnected
from Austin because she doesn't look like the rest of the family.
Meanwhile, Brett grapples with her own issues of paternity
concerning Johnny and Charles, which mirrors their sense of
affinity, or lack thereof, for her. How would you say family- real
family, as the characters struggle to define it-is distinguished
within the context of this novel?
4. Elizabeth implies, and Brett eventually realizes, that she
abandoned much of the courage and self-assurance she possessed as a
girl to strive for acceptance in the eyes of men. The author
herself has said that as a guidance counselor, she has observed
this trend manifest in the lives of many girls, who start out with
lofty goals only to forsake them in their relationships with the
opposite sex. Do you think this is a common occurrence among women?
Are there other female characters in the novel who have fallen
victim to this unfortunate trap, or if not, how have they managed
to avoid making the same mistake?
5. Brett's relationship with Jean Anderson, the director of the
Joshua House, proves to be quite an eye-opener for her, with Jean
adding a dose of grim reality to the naïve, wide-eyed way that
Brett has of looking at the world. Discuss how Brett's worldview
evolves from the beginning to the end of the novel and the other
characters that play a part in this. As Brett asks herself, do you
think ending her relationship with Mr. Right in hopes of finding
Mr. Absolutely Right was courageous, or merely due to stupidity,
immaturity, or arrogance, or perhaps a mix of them all? Do you
think the spark that Brett felt was missing with Herbert is
absolutely necessary in a relationship?
6. Do you think people commonly resist making difficult changes
in their lives unless forced to, as Brett was? How do you tackle
the obstacles in your own life that might prevent you from arriving
at a positive outcome?
7. Motherhood is a central focus in this story. Interestingly,
though, Elizabeth, the foremost maternal figure, is deceased before
the novel opens, and in many ways, it's the "phantom" mothers and
children introduced along the way who play such a pivotal role.
What are some of the lessons the characters have learned or you
think will eventually learn from the absence of their mother or
child? Are there any loved ones in your own life who have similarly
conveyed an invaluable message after their passing?
8. In her notes to Brett, Elizabeth imparts wisdom that must
necessarily last her daughter a lifetime. What was the most
significant lesson you took away from her?
9. Brett abandoned her relationship with Carrie Newsome out of
embarrassment and fear that she wouldn't otherwise be accepted by a
new clique. Is Brett deserving of Carrie's unfaltering affection
and acceptance? Have you ever experienced a similar situation with
a friend, and if so, were you able to repair the relationship down
10. For much of the novel, Brett worries she might be incapable
of being involved in a "normal" relationship, either because she
feels unworthy of love or because she's grown accustomed to a
certain type of man. When and why does this notion begin to
deteriorate and what is it about Garrett that changes
11. Looking back on her journey while in the warm familiarity of
what was once her mother's and is now her own home, Brett considers
"how places become people, how this house and her old iron bed
still pull me in and offer comfort when I need it." Can you think
of any other locales within the novel that take on the persona of a
human being? Are there any places in your own life that function in
the same manner?
12. What would your life list consist of now?