Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
- Why do you think the author set her novel in 1976? Are there parallels between the history of the United States and the life of Aletta Honor?
- Does Aletta do the right thing when she uses her psychic powers to blackmail Reverend Taylor of the Burning Bush Battle Church into leaving her alone? Is she right to cooperate in his face-saving lie afterward, and to keep his visits to prostitutes a secret?
- Flash forward twenty-eight years from the end of Saints and Sinners. It's now 2004 in Okay County. How have things changed for the fictional county and the characters of the novel?
- Do you believe in psychic powers? Have you had any psychic or supernatural experiences in your life? Do you think that such powers, if they exist, come from some external source, like god or the devil, or are they natural abilities of the human mind?
- Why might the author limit Aletta's powers so that they don't work on anyone from her own family?
- Why is Aletta so afraid of being visited by the ghosts of her father and uncle?
- As a girl, Aletta receives a crystal ball as a gift from an old gypsy woman. Why does the old woman give Aletta the ball? And do you think the old woman was really there in the gypsy wagon, or was she another ghost?
- Is Aletta right to blame herself for the deaths of her father and uncle? Does she bear any responsibility for what happened to them?
- What about Aletta's mother, Nadine? Why does she blame her daughter for those deaths? Is there any evidence that Nadine might feel guilty, too? Has she embraced religion to be comforted or to be punished?
- Why do Tessie Jones Maple and Isabella come to visit Aletta when she's just a little girl? Does she somehow remind them of themselves? Do you think they know things about her future that they can't or won't reveal?
- What role does alcohol play in the social fabric of Okay County and in the lives of the men and women who live there? Thinking back over the major events of the novel, are there any in which drinking doesn't play a part?
- Early on, when Aletta touches Kathy Kokin's hand to do a reading, she sees something that disturbs her: a vision of Kathy in a hospital bed. Does she do the right thing by not telling Kathy about this vision?
- If you had psychic powers like Aletta's, how would you handle knowing the possible futures of friends and strangers? What would you keep to yourself?
- Who are the "saints" and who are the "sinners" referred to in the novel's title?
- Does Jimmy Honor live up to his surname in any way? Is he a bad person?
- What about Johnny Redding? He blames Aletta and her father, Clovis, for his failures in life. Is there any truth to that point of view? Should Clovis have given him another chance?
- Aletta often dreams about losing a little girl. Who might that girl be?
- In one dream, Aletta sees a metallic horn growing out of her forehead. What do you think that might symbolize?
- Do you think Nadine finds peace before she dies?
- What lies ahead for Eugene and Aletta? Do you think they will get married, or has Aletta had enough of marriage for now?
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.