Author at work.

Faith Holly Hall, consultant on discussion questions, and provider of all photos.

Holly children at play circa 1952.

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Discussion Questions


1. Jean's parents expected high standards of behavior and achievement and at least her father, "the manager of the tiny universe of our family," was dominant in his control of her life as a young woman. To what extent do you think it was good or bad for her in the long run? Why did she think that if her father had been poor, she would have grown up faster? Why was it that she felt she knew her father better than her mother?

2. What elements of Lorraine's life did Jean yearn for, and what elements of Jean's life did Lorraine yearn for? Consider the same questions regarding Icy. In what ways were each of them good for Jean? In contrast, what insensitivities did Jean experience in school and at Camp Hanoum? How did she handle them and what did they teach her?

3. Was Andrebrook a good choice of school for Jean after high school? Why or why not? What was Miss Weaver's lasting influence upon Jean? As is natural with a girl her age, her relationships with girlfriends were very important. What did she learn about how other girls acted toward each other and toward her, and what did this reveal about what they thought. How did she view herself at this period? How did she see herself in relation to others?

4. What were the responsibilities of Lucy in relation to Jean? What demands were naturally placed upon her? Do you think the situation of having a blind sister was hard on her or was she balanced enough that she wouldn't carry the burden of Jean's life on her shoulders? How did Jean enrich her life?

5. What was your reaction when Jimmy sent a break-up letter to Jean's mother? If you had been Jean's mother, what might you have done? Were you happy or sad to see this relationship end? Did you have doubts about the wisdom of Jean marrying Forrest and going out west?

6. How did each child view their family circumstances differently? How did each one act out his/her opinions, yearnings, aches, embarrassments? Which of the older three felt most injured or burdened by the blindness of Jean and Forrest? How did their feelings manifest themselves?

7. How did Forrest and Jean see themselves in relation to the community of Ramona. Were they aware that they were the subject of gossip and judgment? How did this affect them and how did they deal with it? How did they see themselves in relationship to the Holly family and the Treadway family? Were they an island unto themselves?

8. From twelve years old onward, Jean's life seems like one continual string of challenges. Besides lack of freedom of movement, cooking, and housekeeping, what were some specific challenges? Consider emotional challenges as well as physical ones. What were the joys and the comforts that compensated for the challenges? Why did she hug the Chinese elm?

9. How did Forrest help Jean to discover a deeper vision? What did she contribute to his growth of character? What did their spiritual life consist of? What underlying attitudes and faiths kept them going and striving and enjoying life?

10. How would growing up in this family affect the living of the rest of your life if you were Forrie? Faith? Billy?

11. What would it be like for you to have your family life recorded in a book? Are there episodes that you would wish not to be included? What feelings do you have for the real family members who permitted the author free reign? What do you think Jean's motives might have been to agree to such a project? What aspects of their story do you think it might have been hardest for Jean, Forrest, and the children to release and relive?

12. How do you think writing this first book and this particular book prepared Susan Vreeland to proceed with writing other novels?