Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
How does the author demonstrate in writing what Will is going through, what the world looks and feels like to him? How does the tone and style in Will’s sections differ from the sections that follow Lateef or Violet?
How much responsibility do you think Violet bears for what happens to her son? How much of his behavior is genetically driven, and how much is a result of Violet’s influence and the circumstances of his upbringing?
Look at the scene in the cupcake shop on pages 130-133. What goes wrong in Will’s communication with the girl behind the counter that sets him off? What are some of the triggers throughout the story that cause Will to lose touch with the world as others see it?
How did your thoughts about Violet change over the course of the novel? What clues did the author give that she might not be what she seemed? Have you ever known someone who concealed a mental illness from the people in his or her life?
What attracts Will to the subway?
What were your impressions of Dr. Kopeck? Do you think he has Will’s best interests at heart? What are some of the challenges that might arise in treating a patient like Will?
On page 157 we learn that Lateef “hadn’t been able to make up his mind to catch [Will and Emily]. He still couldn’t make up his mind?” What’s holding him back? What’s particularly difficult about this case for him? Do you see any connection between the relationship between Will and Violet and Lateef’s own upbringing?
What kind of portrait does the novel give of New York City? Do you think the city itself has a strong influence on the deterioration of Will’s mind?
What draws Emily to Will? Why does she agree to see him—and travel with him over the course of the day—despite his earlier behavior?
How do you interpret Will’s markings in the magazine Violet finds in his room? Why do you think he connects sex to the idea of global warming and saving the world? Does any of this trace back to his life with Violet or his time in the hospital?
Will’s illness often prevents him from seeing essential things about the world around him, but he also has sensitivities that other people lack. Do you see signs that Will is gifted, as well as disturbed? What elements of the world does he pick up on that others are likely to miss?
What do you think happened to Will in the hospital? Does the account of his time there line up with your understanding of how patients are treated in mental hospitals? How well do you think our health care system provides for people with mental illness?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Picador.
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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