1. Elaine tells us that Chinese women are taught to be humble and meek—not exactly the Squawking Chicken’s approach. How do you think Elaine has come to reconcile her mother’s demeanor with her own? Where in the book did you begin to see Elaine’s individuality take shape?
2. Elaine’s mother told her: “‘If you can tell the story of the worst thing that has ever happened to you, you’ll never be silenced.’” Do you agree? How do you think people are burdened or liberated by their past?
3. From the absence of bedtime stories to the Squawking Chicken’s frank day-to-day advice, Elaine writes about her mother’s belief that a parent’s role is to provide a crash course in real-world preparation. How does your experience as a parent or child differ from what we see in Listen to the Squawking Chicken?
4. The notion of filial piety appears throughout Listen to the Squawking Chicken, and eventually we learn that Elaine and Jacek—who have decided against hatching a brood—won’t be reaping the returns of an obedient child. What’s your take on filial piety? Have your parents expected this of you and, if applicable, will you expect it of your children in turn?
5. Elaine discusses the challenge of bridging her ethnic culture with her Canadian identity. “Ma shamed me so that I would not suppress the Chinese part of myself to try to become something I could never be.” Shame is often used to repress unwanted thoughts and actions, but the Squawking Chicken uses shame to hone Elaine’s self-confidence. Do you think shame is a useful tool to do so? How did or didn’t it work for Elaine?
6. The Squawking Chicken wasn’t shy about buying Elaine’s first bra. When Elaine expressed some embarrassment, she said: “‘Your body, this natural. What you need, bra, this natural. . . . If you shame your body, you shame yourself. When you shame yourself, everyone shame you.’” How are girls and women taught to perceive their developing bodies? Is this changing?
7. Feng Shui is a constant force in Elaine’s life—in romance, house-hunting, and career choices. Were you surprised by the way Feng Shui has influenced Elaine’s personal life? Do you use anything similar in your own? Discuss.
8. When the Squawking Chicken’s relationship with her second husband come to an end, Elaine said her mother felt disappointment because “She’d let herself be disappointed. She’d let herself trust a person who only let her down. And, once again, that disappointment was a result of her powerlessness.” How accountable can an individual be for another’s actions? Do you tend to shoulder disappointment alone?
9. The Squawking Chicken doesn’t believe in lauding another person’s good looks. (“So what pretty?”) Do compliments on physical appearance have value? Discuss.
10. Do you believe, as the Squawking Chicken does, that a person needs only one true friend? Have you deliberately limited the number of people you call close friends?
11. Elaine identifies her mother’s lack of empathy as one reason she struggles to make and maintain friendships, which often manifests itself in her strict assessment of “Low Classy” people. To what standards do you hold your own friends? Do you think the Squawking Chicken’s expectations are, as Elaine believes, too lofty?
12. The Squawking Chicken isn’t afraid to share her material successes with others. When Elaine confronts her mother about showing off her new house to friends, the Squawking Chicken replies: “‘Your daddy work hard. Your daddy buy a big house. Be proud of your daddy!’” Is there a line between pride and boastfulness? Where do you draw it?
13. How do you think the Squawking Chicken has felt about having this book written about her life with her daughter, by her daughter?
14. What did you think about the book ending with the Squawking Chicken’s voice via her text messages to Elaine?