The Love of My Youth is, from the title onward, a novel
about age. Do Adam's and Miranda's experiences of youth and/or
older age speak to your own? Do they ring true to the course of a
life? "When you are young, [Miranda] thinks, you never believe that
courage isn't enough. That the imaginative, original decision isn't
always the right one" [p. 16]. How does the idea of choice play
into their actions as teenagers and then at the end of the story,
when they separately decide not to become lovers again?
Have you been to Rome? Do Gordon's descriptions of the piazzas
and museums, the artwork and puppet theater, the poor beggars and
the upscale restaurants reflect your memories of the city? How does
having the main characters walk around the city help you experience
it? How do you think the landscape and the food ("the vivid
flavors, spicy tomato, peppery meat and beans, bitter greens
drenched in salty fish and vinegar and oil" [p. 81]) fit into
Adam's and Miranda's ideas about beauty, especially in comparison
to their different views on artists such as Bernini?
Do Adam and Miranda's discussions ring true to their characters?
Why do you think Gordon chose to structure the novel in this way,
focusing on their conversations, and then including flashbacks to
the years of their youth? What do you make of Miranda's statement
that it "excites her to be speaking this way, a way she no longer
speaks" [p. 140]? Do you think there is a language you share with
your first love that is different from any subsequent
This is a novel of firsts-first loves and first endings. The
phrase "the first" arises frequently, including
"for the first time she considers the possibility
that she might wish he were other than he is" [p. 188], and,
regarding Beverly's attentions to Adam, "the first thing he has
been reluctant to talk about to Miranda" [p. 202]. What other
firsts take place in the novel, and how do they drive the
narrative? What do they say about how we come to know ourselves and
experience another person?
In what ways does Gordon bring to life the novel's two time
periods: 1964-1970 and then 2007? Is one era more alive on the
page or are they equally successful at illuminating Adam's and
Miranda's pasts and presents, as individuals within a generation at
the forefront of so many changes?
With the exception of the opening, Gordon titles each
contemporary chapter with the date, place(s), and a quote. Why do
you think she choose this format? Does it act to enrich or distract
from your experience of the narrative? Why do you think a quote
from Miranda almost always heads the chapters?
Do you find meaning in the fact that Adam's name exists in the
reverse spelling of Miranda's? Adam is, of course, the name of the
first man in the Bible, his story beginning before he and Eve taste
of the Tree of Knowledge. Do you think Adam's name fits his
character and, if so, in what ways?
Questions of self-identity play a fundamental role in the novel.
Miranda asks, "Are we fated to always be the people we were? Always
making the same mistakes?" [p. 29] and then, at a different moment,
wonders "Is this the most important thing that can be said about
us, that we are not who we were?" [p. 64]. Perhaps as a way of
combining these ideas, she also says that she is "someone to whom,
like [Adam], a great many things have happened. So the person I am
was the one I was and also another person, perhaps many other
persons" [p. 154]. What is Gordon saying about how well we can know
ourselves? How is that related to our ability to deeply understand
another person? Did Adam and Miranda truly know each other when
they were young? Do they see each other, and themselves, more
clearly now that they are older? Do you feel you have a confident
grasp on your own identity, or do you feel it shifting through the
In what ways do Adam and Miranda experience the past-is it an
ever-present aspect in either of their lives, or does it seem that
they don't often think of it? How do their ideas relate to
Yonatan's, who lets the past go (except for what he cannot escape,
his nightmares of the '67 war), and Clare, who is perhaps too young
to have a past long enough to focus on or forget?
Adam and Miranda discuss money much less directly than other
topics, though its absence or presence has greatly affected their
lives. Miranda has always had money, though it's unclear if she
realizes where her money came from, and how much there is (Adam
wonders if she knows it was her mother's inheritance, not her
father's business acumen). For Adam, money is always a worry-from
his youth, when the family tried to keep the cost of his music
lessons from him, continuing throughout his life as a teacher and
father. What do you see as the role of money in Adam's and
Miranda's lives separately and when they were together?
Spend some time discussing Adam's and Miranda's marriages and
families, both their families of birth and the ones they have
created. Was Miranda fair to her parents, in keeping her distance
from them? Why did she feel much closer to Adam's mother than her
own? What does it mean that one of the reasons she married Yonatan
was because he was so unlike Adam? Is the same true for Adam, in
regard to both Beverly and Clare? What do you think about him
having known Clare since she was thirteen? What parts do Adam's and
Miranda's children, all four of them, and their siblings, Rob and
Jo, play in the narrative?
Regret is a running thread throughout the novel. Do you think
Adam and Miranda feel equal regret for their actions? What do you
make of the section in which Miranda says "In
order to have had the children we have, we had to lead our lives
exactly as we did. Therefore, there can be no regrets" [p. 283] and
Adam responds in part by asking "Would it have been better if my
son had not been born?" [p. 285]. As someone with or without
children, how would you react to their discussion?
Adam slept with Beverly twice and believed she was on birth
control. Miranda slept with Toby and never told Adam. Adam's
betrayal is assumed by both to be much greater. Why is that the
case? Do you believe Miranda when she thinks, but does not say, "I
too am guilty of lying, by omission" [p. 232]? Does Miranda believe
that she has betrayed Adam? Do their actions bear greater weight
because they were each other's first sexual relationship? When
Miranda sleeps with Toby, is the greater betrayal the infidelity of
the body or the emotional infidelity of the secret? For Adam, was
he betrayed equally by Beverly, or should he assume all
responsibility for her pregnancy? What do you make of the scene in
which Miranda cuts off her hair, and Adam feels betrayed? "What
have you done to me?" [p. 272] Adam asks, to which Miranda replies
with the voice of a generation, "To you? I thought it was my hair.
My body" [p. 272].
Miranda remarks that "forgiveness is irrelevant now because the
pain he caused her is long gone and, painless, forgiveness is not
difficult, therefore perhaps not worth much" [p. 41]. When
considering how she has hurt other people, Miranda says, "We can
forgive those who trespass against us. We can't forgive those we've
trespassed against" [p. 213]. What does it mean to forgive someone?
Is there a need to forgive one's self? What do you make of Adam's
dismissal of Miranda's confession that she slept with Toby? "Me? I
forgive you? It is I who need forgiveness" [p. 291]. Do you think
that Miranda truly forgives Adam? Does Adam forgive himself?
Miranda has converted to Judaism, while Adam stays an
unbelieving Catholic-"I don't have it, the ear for faith" [p.
228]-though as a teenager he believed that sleeping with Miranda
put him in a state of sin. Is faith an active element in either
Adam's or Miranda's life? Is it perhaps expressed not through
religious faith, but through their perspectives on the purpose of
their lives? Or through some other outlet?
Adam's and Miranda's definitions of what constitutes an ethical
and worthy life are different-his music, her saving the world-a
divide that began in their youth, and remains their guide to how
they see the world. Levi says to Adam, "The question must be not
only why do we live but what do we live for? And one of the most
important answers, Adam, you must believe me about this, is for
beauty. For beauty whose greatness goes on and on" [p. 183]. Adam
believes that his musical gift is the way in which he must "make
some kind of mark" [p. 52], to "create beauty" [p. 83], while
Miranda wants to "relieve suffering" [p. 83]. In the end, Adam "has
not achieved fame, success, even, but he has not given over his
calling" [p. 9]. Do you think Miranda feels the same way about her
work? Does either of them deeply value what the other does, or even
understand the other's work? What is your own definition of a
worthy life, and in what ways has that question helped direct your
Do you recognize yourself in any of the characters, particularly
with regards to Adam and Miranda, and their spouses, children, or
parents? If so, in what ways are you similar, and to what extent do
Adam and Miranda discuss ideas of belief, age, self-identity,
beauty, and what it means to live a moral life, among other issues.
Gordon is an author who covers these concepts in compelling and
complicated ways, in both her fiction and nonfiction. Have you read
any of her other books? How do themes of faith, family, love, and
redemption operate here and elsewhere in her work?
19. The final words in the novel are Adam's, as he mirrors
Miranda's about being grateful to "These trees. This light" [p.
306]. Those images, based in the natural world, refer in part to
two losses-Miranda's father, her estrangement from him and the way
she is able to miss him through the trees he taught her to name;
and Adam's loss of Beverly, or perhaps more truthfully, Beverly's
inability to exist in the world (her suicide note: "it's too dark
for me" [p. 287]). Why do you think Gordon chose to close The
Love of My Youth with these words, and a focus on
gratefulness? What was your emotional experience of these final
lines, and of the novel as a whole?