Fleeing her native England with her three-year-old daughter, Justine Cantrell gives herself a new name and a new life in America. In a quiet midwestern town on the shores of glittering Lake Maxinkuckee, Justine hopes to recapture the fleeting days of happiness in the long-ago summers she spent with her grandmother. And though her memories of that time are scant, Justine knows they must have shared a special bond. After all, the power of her grandmother’s love has pulled her back to this haven in search of a new beginning.
But fate has other plans. The more Justine gets to know the small town and its people, the more she realizes that her grandmother had her own devastating secrets—secrets that will soon threaten Justine just as surely as her own dark memories.
If you’ve been reading with your book club or on your own, let these questions help you get thinking about the novel…
1. The subject of violence among children is central to the plot of this novel. Discuss violence in schools. What causes it? How can it be stopped?
2. How well do you feel Susan Lewis captured life in America? How does her experience living in Britain color her view of American life? Does her “outsider” status afford her unique insight, or are there elements of midwestern life that must be lived to be understood?
3. What do you think of Justine’s decision to leave England? Would you have done the same in her position?
4. Who surprised you most in this novel? Why?
5. Justine’s memories of England and of summers spent with her grandmother in Indiana are driving forces in this novel. Describe the function of memory and the past. How do Justine’s memories influence her decisions?
6. Both Justine and Grandma May kept carefully guarded secrets. Compare and contrast their secrets and their motivations for hiding them. In what ways are Justine and her grandmother similar? How are they different? Are there any parallels between their experiences?
7. Discuss Justine and Matt’s relationship. What were its primary strengths? Weaknesses?
8. Discuss the themes of prejudice and bullying among schoolchildren that come into play in this novel. What, if anything, could have changed in order for Ben’s experience to be different?
9. How would you describe Justine as a mother? How is her relationship with Tallulah different from her relationship with Ben? How is it similar? Did Justine inherit any parenting styles from her own mother?
10. What is the community in Culver like? How do Justine’s friends in America differ from her friends in England? Are there any particular qualities they have in common?
11. The theme of escaping the past is prominent in this novel. Can we ever truly escape the past? Is it possible to have a fresh start, or do we always carry our emotional baggage with us?