Excerpted from Catherine Wheels by Leif Peterson. Copyright © 2005 by Leif Peterson. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
1. Throughout the book Thomas is grieving–for his brother, for his mother, for his failed marriage. All of us have experienced grief to some extent in our lives. Describe what it feels like to witness Thomas’ grief. Does his eventual comfort become your own?
2. It’s Catherine, a nine-year-old girl, who slowly begins to pull the damaged souls around her back into the world of the living and loving. Why do you think Peterson chose a child to perform this function?
3. There are several things in the book that are either unexplained or unresolved. For instance, we never get to know who or what the young pregnant dancing girl is. We don’t get to know why the statues of the saints are appearing. Normally leaving things unresolved in a book is taboo. Do you think this was done intentionally? If so, why?
4. It’s basic to human nature to want to be able to explain things. On page 253 Clare tells Thomas, “…if we insist on understanding everything, we’ll never get it. We need to simply do our best to live into it, and accept that we may never know what it all means.” Describe the conflict in your own life between wanting the answers and accepting the mystery.
5. On pages 253-254, Thomas tells Clare the story of the seven daughters of Atlas and how they were metamorphosed into stars. It’s clear by this point that the characters in the book are undergoing their own metamorphosis. How is it happening? Is it their growing love for one another? Their experiences? Something else?
6. The theme of randomness versus being fated is brought up several times in the book. Do you believe your life is primarily a random course of events, or is it more determined than that? Does it have to be one or the other, or can it be both?
7. The Right Reverend Daniel Tuttle, who flourished in the late 1800's, once remarked that he engaged in a faith not afraid to reason and reason unashamed to adore. Discuss this idea in relationship to the characters in Catherine Wheels.
8. Throughout the book, Catherine tells stories of various saints. What do you think the purpose was for including this material? Is there a correlation between the stories of the saints and the stories of the characters in the book?
9. During the course of the book the characters move from one island (the castle) to another island (the one in the Caribbean). By the end, do you have any hope that they’ve broken free of their isolationism?
10. There are two Catherine wheels in the book (one in Montana and one in the Caribbean). Is there a third? What role do they play?
11. What would you say the tone of this book is? How does the tone affect the story?
12. On page 79, after seeing a saint, Catherine tells Thomas, “My father had something to do with it.” On page 320, Thomas stands at the window and says, “Stephen, what do you want from me?” Again, on the last page of the book, Stephen’s presence is felt very strongly. In many ways, Stephen’s presence haunts the whole book. What affect does this have on you as a reader?
13. If you had to describe in two or three sentences what this book was about, how would you do it?