Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
The novel opens with a terrible storm. How does this beginning portend the events of the ensuing story?
Discuss the "birthday sisters" Dana and Ruth. What is each like? What kind of households are they raised in? Each represents an opposing side of nature: one is scientific and practical, the other an artist and dreamer. How do their opposite personalities affect who they are and how they make their way in the world?
What are your impressions of Edwin Plank, Connie Plank, and Valerie Dickerson? If this story were set today, would the outcome be the same? Why?
Both girls share a special relationship with Edwin Plank. In what ways are they similar in the eyes of this kind man one girl calls father and the other calls friend? What life lessons did they learn from him?
Think about Valerie Dickerson and Connie Plank. How did their personalities affect their views on family and childrearing? Analyze their relationships with their daughters. What did each girl share with these very different women?
Why didn't the adults correct the mistake that changed everyone's lives? Why didn't they tell the girls? How might events have been different if the girls had known what had happened? How did the girls' unawareness of the truth affect how they saw each other through childhood and beyond? Were the girls cheated in any way?
What made Dana's brother, Ray, so attractive to Ruth? Was not telling Ruth the truth sooner cruel?
What role did the Planks' farm play in the story? How are Dana and Ruth tied to the land when they are children? Does this change once they become adults?
When Ruth is living in Boston, Edwin comes to visit and they talk about her art and the nude models she draws. He says, "Back in my day, they made such a big deal about all of that, it made you a little crazy. If people could have talked about it and not acted like the whole thing was so sinful, maybe we wouldn't have gotten into so much trouble." What is Edwin referring to? Do you think he's correct?
After her breakup with Ray, Ruth forgave her father but not her mother. Why? What made her eventually forgive Connie?
Why didn't Ruth call Dana immediately when she discovered the truth about the past? Why didn't Dana tell Ruth after she'd figured it out? How did the truth set them free to be themselves?
What is the significance of the title The Good Daughters? How does this gardening term perfectly capture the story and its characters?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Harper Perennial.
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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