Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
In a memoir that is by turns harrowing and humorous, Janine Latus recounts both
her own and her sister Amy's dealings with men, beginning with their father.
From the traumatic childbirth experiences of their mother to the daily reminders
from their father that their looks are what matter most, both Janine and Amy
take away from their childhood's a sense that, as young women, they are
unworthy, even sinful, by nature. In spite of their strength, intelligence, and
strong bond with each other, both Janine and Amy find themselves trapped in
relationships with abusive and controlling men. Fortunately, Janine is able to
escape this cycle. Amy, however, does not.
If I Am Missing or Dead explores issues faced by all women in our society
and particularly by those who have experienced physical or emotional abuse.
Janine's story vividly illustrates the wide spectrum of abusive behavior and
depicts the cycle of self-doubt that can lead smart, attractive women to remain
in abusive relationships. If I Am Missing or Dead is also the story of a
woman finding her voice and making sense of her own story: for herself, for her
sister, for women everywhere.
Questions for Discussion:
Why do you think Janine chose to tell her own story alongside Amy's
Both Amy and Janine have troubled relationships with their bodies. While
Amy struggles with her weight, Janine seems to be addicted to exercise and
weight loss. How do the sisters' respective difficulties with body image
affect their relationships? Where did these problems originate?
When she is twelve years old, Janine is attacked and nearly raped by a
neighbor, Mr. Johnston. Examine her parents' responses to this event. What
messages do these responses send?
Janine and Amy's mother undergoes several traumatic experiences
associated with childbirth, including losing a child and nearly dying
herself. How were these events treated within the Latus household? What
lessons does Janine draw from them?
"In church I learned: Girls are seductresses, starting with Eve, who got
us all kicked out of the Garden of Eden by being weak, by taking a bite from
the tree of knowledge, and -- most important -- by enticing poor, innocent
Adam to do the same" (29). What role does Janine's religious education play
in the development of her self-image? How are her early sexual experiences
affected by what she learns in church?
Compare Amy's relationships with men to Janine's. What differences do
you see? What similarities?
If I Am Missing or Dead depicts many different kinds of abuse.
Compare Janine's father's abuse of his wife and children, Michael and Kurt's
abuse of Janine, and Ron Ball's abuse of Amy. What is the author's view of
these different kinds of abuse? Do you agree?
Make a list of the men with whom Janine has sexual encounters and/or
relationships, beginning in her early adolescence. What does she learn from
each of these encounters? How do they shape the person she becomes?
In spite of her difficulties with men, Janine manages to become a
successful journalist and ultimately she finds the strength to leave her
marriage. What are the sources of strength in Janine's life? Were there
positive aspects of her childhood that allowed her to cultivate
self-confidence in certain areas? What is different about her personality in
comparison to Amy's that shelters this strength?
Why is Amy unable to extricate herself from a relationship that she
suspects may end with her death?
How does Janine and Amy's father affect the way they see themselves as
girls, as teenagers, and later as women? Try to recall specific instances of
their father's behavior that you think had an impact.
Enhance Your Readers' Group
Use the Internet to locate and contact a local battered women's shelter
or other organization devoted to helping women. Find out whether they accept
donations and what they need most. Then, have members of your group collect
clothing, food, and/or gently used appliances to donate.
Visit www.janinelatus.com and print out some of the author's articles,
available on the website, to read as a group.
Hold a fundraiser for Amy's Courage Fund (www.amyscourage.org) or
another charity devoted to stopping domestic violence. Instead of the usual
bake sale, why not host a reading, inviting members of your group and other
local writers to share their writing, and ask guests for a small donation?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Simon & Schuster.
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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