Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. The first paragraph of Cartwheel ends with a chilling statement: “The things that go wrong are rarely the things you’ve thought to worry about.” Why do you think the author makes such a pronouncement at the beginning of the novel? What does she mean? Is this true in your life?
2. The story in Cartwheel is very much of our time. Lily’s case becomes an international sensation because of Facebook, blogs, and the way shocking news and information can travel around the world within minutes. Social media plays a big role in Cartwheel. Does this change your view of social media? How do you use social media to share details of your life? What about your family members?
3. Why do you think Jennifer duBois chose to tell the story from four points of view? How does that affect the experience of reading it?
4. At one point, Lily’s sister Anna says “… everyone wants to love Lily,” that she’s always played by different rules. Why does Anna think this?
5. Lily’s father, Andrew, believes “. . . everything vile about your children was to some degree vile about yourself.” Is this a fair statement? Do Lily’s parents fail her, or is this parental guilt?
6. What impact does her sister’s ordeal have on Anna?
7. The title of the book comes from the cartwheel Lily turned between interrogation sessions. Why did the author choose this image as significant?
8. In what ways are Lily and Katy different? Why does Lily feel Katy’s life was “easy”? Is she being fair?
9. Have you, or someone you know, studied abroad? Do you think it benefits college students to visit other countries? Why do you think Lily wanted to study abroad? What was she looking for?
10. Eduardo, attorney for the prosecution, believes Lily is guilty but that she doesn’t understand why what she did was wrong. Do you agree?
11. Sebastien is an enigmatic character. What do you think Lily is attracted to about him? Where do you think his addiction to obscuring half-ironies come from, and what consequences does it have for the unfolding of events?
12. The author uses ambiguity to tell this story. How does that affect your understanding of what happened? Which character do you trust the most?
13. Lily calls her family “repressed,” saying they never learned how to mourn their first child, the sister who died before Lily and Anna were born. Why does she say she and Anna were treated like “replacement children?”
14. Do you believe the whole story comes out at Lily’s trial?
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