Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Through the eyes of these two young women, we get a pretty modern view of
the world. What then, do you make of the rather traditional ending: the
fairy-tale marriage that seems to embody all the hopes of the future? Do you
think the author is playing with this concept, or using it to offset her
rather un-traditional story line?
The author utilizes a rather unusual technique when she tells the story
through shifting points of view. How did this affect your reading of the
story? Why might the author have chosen to do this? Do you think there are
insights that could only have come out through multiple perspectives, or do
you think the author wanted the ambiguity and clashing perspective that
shifting points of view can elicit in a reader?
In many ways, this is really a story about growth, change, and
transformation. Discuss the ways that virtually all of the characters alter
their old, comfortable ways of being, acting, and thinking (or lack of
thinking, in Maggie's case) throughout the course of this story. How easy
does it seem for the characters to change? Would you consider intense pain
or disillusionment (with a person or a job) to be the main catalyst for much
of this change, or do you think something else sparks it?
Body image, for both sisters, obviously affects how they view the world
around them. While Rose, at least in the beginning of the story, seems
almost apologetic about her body, Maggie uses hers like a weapon, moving
through the novel with a confidence that borders on aggressive. In what ways
do you think their physical bodies, or perhaps the reactions that they
receive from others regarding their physical bodies, helps create the people
that they ultimately become?
Early in the novel, we get a rather painful and disturbing view of Rose's
childhood during the scene on the dodgeball court. And while we would
expect, or at least hope, that her sister might step in and try to protect
Rose in such a humiliating moment, Maggie stands watching, obviously in
pain, but frozen. In fact, Maggie goes so far as to blame her sister, asking
herself, "Why did she have to wear those [underwear] today" and
reassuring herself that "[Rose] brought this on herself." Were you
shocked by Maggie's coldheartedness? Do you think that there were mitigating
circumstances that help to explain this cruelty?
Forgiveness plays a central role in this story, as many of the characters
struggle with their need for family and their inability to let bygones be
bygones. To what degree do you think forgiveness paves the way for the
story's resolution? Would you have forgiven Maggie? If you were Ella, would
you have forgiven Michael Feller for having shut you out of Rose and
Maggie's childhood? What seems more central to this story: the idea of
self-forgiveness or forgiving others?
At times, it seems as if Maggie has created, in herself, the antithesis of
her sister, and Rose heartily rejects and criticizes all things that seem to
her Maggie-esque. Do you think the sisters' rejection of each other is a
form a self-rejection? Do they actually share more traits than they would
care to admit? Do they want to be like each other? Have they accepted their
respective roles as screw-up and good girl so wholeheartedly that they
unconsciously squelch any behavior that might help them to step outside of
Do you see this story as a common one in terms of sibling rivalry, or does
this go above and beyond what you would consider "normal" sisterly
animosity? If so, what do you think accounts for this? Obviously, the strain
of losing a mother -- one whose life was filled with struggle even before
her death due to a debilitating mental illness -- can lead to misplaced
anger and bitterness, but why do you think the girls turn on each other like
they do? Were you surprised that their shared experiences didn't forge an
absolute, unbreakable solidarity?
Although Rose seems to have a strong and loyal friend in Amy, we get the
sense that Maggie really has no female friends; it seems that male
relationships are the only ones that she chooses to foster. To what extent
do you think Maggie's relationship with Rose affects her ability to make
lasting, trusting bonds with other women in her life? Why is it that Rose
seems more capable of these relationships?
At one point, Rose says to a waitress upon Maggie's departure, "She's
not my friend, she's my sister." How might this shed some light on
Rose's feelings of obligation and resentment toward Maggie? Do you think
that, given better circumstances, Maggie and Rose could have been friends?
Do you think family members can ever truly be friends?
What significance does the title have regarding the larger themes that
this novel encompasses? Do you think it is ever possible for someone to ever
truly put themselves in someone else's shoes? What do you think the author
Where do you imagine Rose and Maggie in ten years? Has their relationship
grown and gotten stronger? Do you see them finally as friends, or do you
think they ultimately will fall back into old habits?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Washington Square Press.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.