In 1968, a clerical mistake threatens the prestigious but cash-strapped Goode School in the small New England town of Cape Wilde. After a century of all-male, old-boy education, the school accidentally admits its first female student: Carole Faust, a brilliant, outspoken, fifteen-year-old black girl whose arrival will have both an immediate and long-term effect on the prep school and everyone in its orbit.
There’s the school’s philandering headmaster, Goddard “God” Byrd, who had promised co-education “over his dead body” and who finds his syllabi full of dead white males and patriarchal tradition constantly challenged; there’s EV, the daughter of God’s widowed mistress who watches Carole’s actions as she grows older with wide eyes and admiration; and, finally, there’s Carole herself, who bears the singular challenge of being the First Girl in a world that’s not quite ready to embrace her.
Excerpted from Daughters of the Revolution by Carolyn Cooke. Copyright © 2011 by Carolyn Cooke. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, 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.
“Lifts the bell jar off the rarified world of traditional male prep schools. . . . Wickedly funny.” —Ms.
"Mordantly funny and coolly streamlined, deeply humane and slyly wise." —St. Petersburg Times
“Ferocious, astonishing. . . . [Cooke’s] profound, honest compassion for all her characters, men and women, makes them so engrossing, you almost forget what they’re up against.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“[Daughters of the Revolution] shimmers with intimate and revealing detail.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Cooke writes with such delicacy and control, such luminous warmth, that the only disappointment comes when the book ends.” —The Boston Globe
“Carolyn Cooke writes with knives and feathers. She slices into her subjects so we see the insides of them and she dusts off the everyday covering to reveal the true contours beneath. Her Daughters of the Revolution is bristling with smarts. Read it slowly and savor the gift this author gives her readers: fierce intelligence, sly humor and not a moment of missing the folly in life.” —Susan Minot, author of Rapture
“Wise [and] exquisitely spare.” —Marie Claire
“Cooke's writing is so sensuous and alert that it would be easy to miss the novel's symbolic qualities.” —The New Yorker
“So smart, so visceral, so sexy. . . . Absolutely brilliant.” —Kate Walbert, author of A Short History of Women
“[A] charming, provocative, intelligent novel” —Hudson Valley News
“Fiercely intelligent.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“If you read just one book of fiction this year, this should be the one.” —The Portland Press Herald
“This smart, sexy, sarcastic, sophisticated novel from Cooke . . . defies genre comparisons but has particular relevance.” — Library Journal (starred review)
“Cooke’s writing flows and sparkles.” —The Washington Independent Review of Books
“Exuberant bad behavior runs like a life force through this book, in which every sentence is chiseled exactly.” —Sarah Stone, author of The True Sources of the Nile
1. Who is the main character in this novel? Why are the EV sections told in first person?
2. There are several unusual character names here: God, Heck, Mei-Mei, EV, Pilgrim. What is the metaphorical significance of the names?
3. For God, “loss was one theme: the headship of the school, the battle over girls, memory, prostate, lung, teeth, foreskin.” What are some other themes in the novel?
4. What does the title mean? Who are the daughters of the revolution?
5. Discuss the class issues raised throughout the book. What effect does money have in determining one’s place in society as opposed to gender or ethnicity?
6. Why isn’t the story told chronologically? Discuss how the author plays with time.
7. What do you imagine happens to Archer Rebozos in the years following the accident?
8. Goddard Byrd swears that the Goode School will admit girls “over my dead body.” Is God a misogynist?
9. God sees a phrase written in graffiti: “Are we not drawn onward we few drawn onward to new era?” What does it mean? Mrs. Rebozos points out that it’s a palindrome. Why is this significant?
10. Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick comes up again and again over the course of the novel. Carole Faust compares herself to the whale, calling herself a “fearful symbol.” What point is the author making with this connection? What is the role of literature in the novel?
11. In what ways does Carole represent the radical changes of the 1960s?
12. EV says, “Mei-Mei thought my father’s death was a story about accidents, threats, loss, abandonment, risk. ‘Be careful,’ she used to tell me . . . ‘Don’t die.’” It sounds like she thinks her father’s death was about none of those things. What did it mean to her?
13. Several times, we are told that Mrs. O’Greefe had her own nipple grafted onto her forehead. What is the significance of this act?
14. Discuss EV’s trip to the Caribbean island, which ends with the news of her roommate’s murder. What does the reader learn during this section of the book? Why is the reckless EV safe while the cautious Jess dies?
15. Mei-Mei points out the similarities between Pilgrim and God. Why does EV choose a man like Pilgrim?
16. After she has sex with Pilgrim, Mei-Mei wonders if she had ever been a good mother to EV. Do you think she was? Why does she sleep with Pilgrim?
17. Why does God get circumcised? How does it bring about his downward spiral?
18. Discuss the character of Mrs. Graves. Why is she so devoted to God? What does she get out of their relationship?
19. In her speech at the end of the novel, Carole says that God is “the secret of my success.” How so? Do you think he knew this?
20. When Mei-Mei tells Carole about Heck’s accident and the life jacket, EV is shocked, because it “changed our whole story into a story about power and economics, about our lesser equipment and poorer tools. I’d misunderstood everything.” How does this one detail make such a difference? Why hadn’t Mei-Mei told EV about it before?