Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
- 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
- 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.
- How does motherhood change Jane's life?
- 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?
- How does Jane's image of herself correspond
(or not) with how others perceive her?
- 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
- How would you describe Lucy and how do you
understand her actions?
- 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?
- Discuss the particular intensity of adolescent
friendships and the havoc they can wreak as
well as the benefits.
- 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?
- Matt's aunt refers to Jane as "Mattie's girl."
What do you think was the true nature of
Matt's feelings toward Jane?
- 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.
- Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of single-
sex versus coed schools. Which educational
setting do you prefer and why?
- Why do Jane's students decide to "go easy on
her"? What does she think? What do you
- Do you consider Jane a good teacher? What
qualities constitute a good teacher?
- 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?
- 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
- 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?
- 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.
- 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?
- Do you think the Heart Lake School will survive
its most recent scandal?
- 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?
- 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.