Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About This Guide
In Lisa Unger's debut novel, she spins a web of
deceit with her poignantly drawn characters. This guide is designed to help you
explore her themes of choice, trust, freedom, and love.
About This Book
An expertly crafted literary thriller,
Beautiful Lies introduces a compelling young heroine as she unravels how the
choices she's made have turned her into the woman she's become.
Ridley Jones knows that the smallest coincidences can have more impact than the
big decisions: She steps off the curb to save a child from being run over, and
suddenly her face is plastered on every TV screen and newspaper in the country.
When an unexpected note is left in her mailbox and a mysterious stranger
appears, eager to help her solve the puzzle, her beautiful life is soon
One of the novel's main themes is choice, and how both big choices and
little ones can have a profound impact on a person's life. Did Ridley have a
choice in finding out the truth about her past? If she'd chosen to ignore
the first picture and note, could she have avoided all the questions and
secrets that arose?
Would it have been possible for Ridley to ignore the events of the past
and still have developed a true sense of self? Would you be able to?
On page 17, Ridley says, "Freedom, I'd have to say is probably the most
important thing to me, more important than youth, beauty, fame, money." Does
this freedom Ridley craves influence the lies that have been told to her her
entire life? Or is this freedom what could have protected her from asking
questions about her past?
Throughout the story, the author compares Jake to Zack. Are there any
similarities between the two men? In the beginning, what does Ridley admire
about each of them?
Why did Jake keep the truth from Ridley for so long? Would it have been
easier to tell her who he was from the start? Would she have believed him?
The author brings up the idea of parental (and adult) control over
children, even after these children have grown up. Is there a control
parents will always have over their child? Or at some point is control
relinquished to the child to live his/her own life? How could Ridley's
parents have handled the situation differently? Would it have worked?
On page 51, Ridley says, "When you love someone, it doesn't really
matter if they love you back or not. Having love in your heart for someone
is its own reward. Or punishment, depending on the circumstances." By the
end of the novel, has Ridley's view of her family and Jake altered this idea
of love? How has it altered? If her family and Jake followed the same
definition of love, would their views have been altered by the events of the
What do you think of the nature of Project Rescue before Teresa Stone's
murder? Was there another or better way to protect children from abuse or
neglect? What do you think of the systems in place to protect children today
in your own society?
Do you believe Ridley's father and Max should both be penalized or
blamed for what happened? What about Ridley's mother and Ace? Did any of
these people have a responsibility to tell Ridley what happened to her? Why
or why not?
If you were Jake or Ridley, would you have looked into all the cases of
missing children, as they did, or would you have focused solely on finding
the truth of your own past? What was to gain by looking at all the cases?
Could they have found the truth about their own life without looking at the
Do you think Ace's drug addiction and problems with his parents were
related to Ridley's history, which he overheard their father and Max
discussing one day? How do you think Ridley would have handled the truth had
she been told by her parents instead of finding out the way she did?
On page 252, Ridley says, "I was operating under a faith that the
universe conspires to reveal the truth, that lies are unstable elements that
tend toward breaking down." Do you think the truth would have revealed
itself to Ridley without Jake's involvement? Would it have been easier or
more difficult to take without Jake?
On page 368, Ridley asks, "Isn't that so often true with family, that we
see them through the filters of our own fears, expectations, and desire to
control?" How does this apply to each of her family members? How is it
affected by the truth that's come out, and how will it affect their
relationships moving forward? Can Ridley, or anyone, project fear,
expectation, or desire to control onto how she views anyone else now?
By the end of the story, what do you think of Zack's and Esme's role in
Project Rescue? Was it right for Esme to help Max as she did because of her
love for him?
On page 369, Ridley says, "We don't have control, we have choices." And
on page 371, she says, "In life there are only good and bad choices.
And sometimes even choices can only be judged by their consequences. And
sometimes not even then." Is it really as simple as a matter of choice? How
would any of the characters agree or disagree with these ideas?
When Ridley confronts Jake on the Brooklyn Bridge, she wants to know how
he found her to begin with. He tells her that he saw her picture in The
Post, just like Christian Luna. Can this be the truth? Or is Jake hiding
more than Ridley ever realizes even as the book ends?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Three Rivers.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
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