Host Your Own Book Club
I love a book club. Seriously, I really do. I’d love to be a guest at your book club, either virtually or in person. I’m available for in-person book discussions in the Maryland, Virginia, Delaware area (but I’m also an enthusiastic traveler so don’t hesitate to ask if I’ll be in your area in the future).
Discussion Guide - the precious jules
WHO IS TELLING THE STORY?
1. The Precious Jules is told from the point of view of ten different characters including all family members as well as Lynetta and Clarissa. Why do you think the author chose to tell the story in this way?
2. We don’t hear from Ella until nearly the end of the novel at the dinner party in her honor. Did this chapter change your understanding of Ella?
3. Likewise, we don’t hear from Stone until after the dinner party when he and Finny are cleaning up debris from the explosion. Did this chapter change your understanding of Stone in any way?
1. Hillary eventually shares with Lynetta that Ella nearly drowned, but she fails to reveal her full role in that incident. Why do you think that is and do you think Lynetta suspects the truth?
2. Lynetta later shares with Hillary the incident with Brody and the bees, but likewise fails to share that Ella was a victim of rape. Why do you think that is and should she have shared the full story? Do you think Hillary suspects that she is only getting part of the story?
3. Did Stone believe Jax when Jax told him what he witnessed?
4. Belle has some secrets of her own. Hillary believes Belle to be most like her, but how does Belle’s secret make her different from her mother? And how are they alike?
5. Jax and Clarissa have an unlikely friendship. Discuss their friendship in light of the secret they share.
6. All the Jules children have secrets to some degree: Finney doesn’t tell his family he is coming to Baltimore to see the aunts, George doesn’t tell his family about his wife’s illness, and Tess doesn’t want anyone to know she lost her job. Discuss the various “small secrets” the Jules siblings keep. Do you believe this is normal or is it tied in some way to Ella’s banishment?
1. Even after the dinner, Hillary shocks Stone and her children by refusing to give up on the idea of bringing Ella home. She refuses to hear what her family has to say and insists it be her own decision. This is a change for Hillary. Discuss the ways in which she feels she has been controlled by her church and the needs of her family.
2. How did the near drowning of Ella change the relationship between Jax and his mother?
3. Hillary is devastated when she leaves Bets’s home. What is at the core of her pain? How does it change her relationship with Stone and her relationship to the secret itself?
THINGS TO PONDER
1. Do you know of an institution similar to Beechwood? Do you think Beechwood is typical of such institutions in that era?
2. Is Hillary a sympathetic character? Can she be forgiven for what has happened with Ella? Likewise, can Lynetta be forgiven for what happened with Brody?
3. How did you feel about the ending? Is it in Ella’s best interest to remain with Lynetta?
Discussion Guide - a hand to hold in deep water
The influence of water.
1. The book revolves around three bodies of water in three locations: Ocracoke Island, The St. Mary’s River, and the farm with its large pond. Discuss the meaning of these locations and the part water plays in the book.
2. May finds it impossible to learn to swim and yet she is dangerously drawn to water. Discuss the significance of this and in what ways it may mirror her struggle.
Animals: both pets and livestock.
1. We are introduced to numerous animals in the book. How do the characters’ experiences with different animals, both wild and domestic, affect the characters’ understanding of their own situation.
Time and Change.
1. Duffy announces that he and Franny have changed their mind about selling Carroll’s Grocery, that instead they will start selling things consumers can’t get at the new grocery chain. “Times change,” says Willy. “Calls for innovation. If you can’t be bigger, be better.” Discuss the recurring theme of pivoting to adjust to change.
Life on the farm v. life on the water.
1. May is struck by the difference between life on the water and life on the farm and the difference between fishing and farming. At one point she says, “I spent all my life waiting to take what the earth give up, and he spent all his life putting into the earth what he wants to get back.” What does she mean by this and what does her understanding reveal about their relationship and May’s helplessness specifically?
Relationships and their impact.
1. Discuss the ways in which Mac and Lacey’s relationship is altered once Tasha is born. In light of Lacey’s past, specifically her childhood, why do you think this happens?
2. What reason does Willy give for not looking for May? What does Willy finally come to understand about his reluctance to look for her and do you think that says anything significant about how much or the way in which he loved May?
3. There is a significant age gap between Willy and May. How does Willy both navigate and justify this difference in age when he first meets May and again when he becomes engaged to her. Does his understanding change by the end of the book?
4. When we first meet Willy he is lonely, set in his ways, and generally disappointed by life. Why is this the case and in what ways does he change by the end of the book.
May and May’s effect on the family in later years.
1. May disappears in 1972 after a long battle with depression. Was trauma the cause of her depression? Do you think her traditional role as a young wife and mother exacerbated her illness? Given the times, do you think May could have been helped if she had been open with Willy about what had happened to her?
2. Lacey decides not to tell Willy about the diary. How does she come to that decision? What did she imagine would happen to Willy if she shared it with him? In what ways does this decision suggest a change in Lacey? Do you agree with her decision?
3. May’s personal story is told through her diary. Why do you think the author chose to tell us about May through her diary and how does the diary format affect the reader’s understanding of May.
Lacey’s personal battles.
1. Discuss the way Lacey’s feelings toward her church, and God in particular, have changed since her childhood. Why do you think this is? What is meant by “It can’t be said that she doesn’t believe in God. She does. She just doesn’t trust him.”
2. At one point Lacey admits she is angry at Tasha for being sick. Is her anger understandable on any level? How does recognizing her anger make her feel?
The author’s creative choices.
1. The Prologue takes place eight months before the book opens. In what ways does the prologue foreshadow what happens to Lacey and Tasha a year later and what does the prologue tell you about Lacey and her parenting of Tasha?
2. Secrets is a predominant theme in the book. May refuses to reveal who Lacey’s father is. Lacey won’t tell Willy her real reason for not marrying Mac or her reason for coming back to the farm with Tasha. Aunt Virgie won’t reveal to Lacey her biological father. Discuss the way these secrets lead to assumptions and misunderstandings amongst the characters.