What writers do so very much of the time is both simple and simply lonely: We sit by ourselves in a room with only our own stories and characters and joys and frustrations to keep us company. For this reason and many others, it is a great pleasure to get out of that room from time to time and meet people who have read about the lives and events that I have dreamed into existence, and I am thankful for the opportunities to do so. If you would like me to attend your book club discussion–in person if local and schedule permits or via Zoom–please send me an email. I will get back to you just as quickly as I can. In the meantime, thank you for considering my novels for your book club.
Book club discussion questions for A GRACIOUS NEIGHBOR:
1. In addition to Minnie’s pet parakeet, Bonnie, there are bird references throughout the novel. What do these references symbolize?
2. The epigraph is a four-part definition of the titular word gracious. Which of those definitions applies to each character?
3. Do you identify with any of the characters? If you noticed any shared characteristics, how did it make you feel? Would you admit those traits to your book club?
4. Several of Martha’s choices are driven by her assumptions and misperceptions about Minnie. Which other characters in the book make assumptions about one another?
5. Do you recognize similarities between Martha’s neighbors and members of your own community?
6. While female relationships are at the heart of this novel, the male characters play important roles in driving the women’s actions and reactions. What were your initial impressions of the men in this story? Did you opinions evolve over the course of the book?
7. Do you think Martha is a reliable or unreliable narrator in her own story? Why?
8. As a photographer, Martha understands the value of perspectives and seeing things through different lenses. As a photo editor, she also understands how images can be manipulated to distort reality. Why do you think she misses these truths when it comes to her perspective and lens through which she sees Minnie? Why does she allow her distorted perspective to become her perceived reality?
9. The idea of samaratanism comes up when Harry is caught painting graffiti, then again when Martha hears a rumor about her would-be friend. Do you think Martha’s choices to act on her Good Samaritan impulses were justified? Or just that she thought they were? Were you still rooting for her even as she started to make some unusual choices?
10. How does Harry’s summer-camp absence and looming adulthood affect Martha’s emotional state?
11. We only know Minnie through Martha’s few interactions with and frequent thoughts about her. How do you feel about Minnie as a person? Did you reach conclusions similar to Martha’s about Minnie, or did you suspect other dynamics existed that Martha was missing?
12. Why do you think Minnie felt such a strong bond with Bonnie? In what ways are the two of them alike? What role did Bonnie serve for Minnie?
13. On the day that follows Martha’s first foray into the Wright’s home and the Hales’ anniversary-evening missteps, Mrs. Kashuba points out the sooty mold infecting Martha’s crape myrtle trees. In what other ways does the author use natural elements to illustrate truths about the plot and/or characters?
14. In what ways are Bonnie’s and John’s murders foreshadowed?
15. Do you think Minnie is guilty of murder? If so, do you feel sympathetic toward her anyway? Why do you think this was purposely left open ended?
16. What do you think happens to Martha and Minnie after the last page?