Reading guide for The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman

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The Lake of Dead Languages

By Carol Goodman

The Lake of Dead Languages
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2002,
    390 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2003,
    413 pages.

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. Given the trauma she endured there, why does Jane return to the Heart Lake School for Girls? Do you judge her options to be as limited as she does? Are there other factors at work in her decision?

  2. Jane acknowledges: "I had thought it was all right to marry someone I didn't love, but what I hadn't counted on was how it felt to share someone I loved with someone I didn't." Discuss the nature of Jane and Mitch's marriage and the impact Olivia's birth had on it.

  3. How does motherhood change Jane's life?

  4. Discuss Jane's socioeconomic background and its impact on her. Would you agree or disagree that class mobility in the United States takes a toll that is not always acknowledged or discussed?

  5. How does Jane's image of herself correspond (or not) with how others perceive her?

  6. Lucy's aunt has a very different perspective on Lucy that contrasts sharply with Jane's worshipful remembrance. Do you think Jane is finally able to see Lucy in a more complicated light by the end of the novel? Why or why not?

  7. How would you describe Lucy and how do you understand her actions?

  8. Lucy had a magnetism that drew people to her, inspiring conflict and jealousy within her circle. Have you ever had such a friend or been such a friend?

  9. Discuss the particular intensity of adolescent friendships and the havoc they can wreak as well as the benefits.

  10. Do you think tragedy might have been averted if Lucy had been able to tell Matt the "something that changes everything," which Helen Chambers shared with her?

  11. Matt's aunt refers to Jane as "Mattie's girl." What do you think was the true nature of Matt's feelings toward Jane?

  12. Discuss the merits and drawbacks of the popular theories, ascribed to by school psychologist Candace Lockhart in this novel, about the crisis of confidence experienced by adolescent girls and its effects.

  13. Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of single- sex versus coed schools. Which educational setting do you prefer and why?

  14. Why do Jane's students decide to "go easy on her"? What does she think? What do you think?

  15. Do you consider Jane a good teacher? What qualities constitute a good teacher?

  16. What do you think of Helen Chambers's behavior toward her students, particularly her attitude toward and decisions regarding Lucy? Was the school's decision to fire Chambers justified? Do you think this decision was based solely on her sexual orientation?

  17. Discuss the many secrets finally brought to light in this novel and the corrosive and destructive impact secrets can have on those keeping them and those from whom information is withheld.

  18. Jane has lived under a cloud of guilt and remorse since her senior year at Heart Lake. She wonders "if there's any end to this cycle of guilt and retribution." Do you think the truth will set her free?

  19. Jane is haunted by a past that has severely compromised her ability to live in the present. Discuss how people can become trapped by the past and how to make peace with it.

  20. What shape do you imagine Jane's life will take after the end of this novel? Do you think she will leave Heart Lake? Should she?

  21. Do you think the Heart Lake School will survive its most recent scandal?

  22. There are many mysteries to be solved over the course of this novel. How do you read mysteries? Are you content to go along for the ride or determined to unravel the mysteries before the author reveals them? If you are the latter kind of reader, did the author stump you or did you figure out what was going on in advance?

  23. Discuss the structure of this novel as it shifts between the present and the past.

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Ballantine Books. 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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