Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
- Despite visions and a special destiny, Gemma is not so unlike the other
girls at Spence in her feelings of alienation and her yearning for
acceptance. Gemmas need to fit into her new school leads to her being
locked in the chapel in the middle of the night. Would you have made
the same choice? Have you ever done something you didnt want to do, to
get someone to like you? Have you ever taken advantage of someone who
wanted you to like him or her?
- The Realms are a place where
anything seems possible. Each of the four girls wants one thing above
all else: Felicity desires power, Pippa seeks love, Ann wants beauty,
and Gemma craves self-knowledge. Does any of the characters achieve her
goal by the end of the story? Why or why not? What would you want?
- Gemma says of Felicity, I dont yet know what power feels like. But
this is surely what it looks like, and I think Im beginning to
understand why those ancient women had to hide in caves. Why our
parents and teachers and suitors want us to behave properly and
predictably. Its not that they want to protect us; its that they fear
us (p. 207). What kind of power is Gemma talking about? What is it
that she thinks the parents and teachers and suitors fear?
- Women. Power. These two words conjure many images and emotions, and they appear throughout A Great and Terrible Beauty.
What connections does Libba Bray draw between the two words? How does
she characterize the Victorians view of powerful women? How do you
think powerful women are viewed today?
- Bray paints the
Victorian age as a time when appearances must be kept up at all times.
Appearances matter more than reality, and anything interesting is kept
a secret. For example, Gemmas family hides the nature of Virginia
Doyles death to avoid scandal. Likewise, in the Realms, appearances
are deceiving. Gemma, Ann, Pippa, and Felicity believe their dreams are
coming truebut is that really the case? What do you think the author
meant by drawing a parallel between reality and paradise? Is it ever
really possible to escape or change reality?
- In a starred review, Publishers Weekly
said, Bray brilliantly depicts a caste system, in which girls are
taught to abandon individuality in favor of a mans wishes, as a deeper
and darker horror than most things that go bump in the night. Do you
think Gemma has achieved a certain freedom by the end of the novel? Are
her supernatural powers responsible for bringing about this freedom? Do
you think she would have been such a rebel if it hadnt been for her
- In Diary of an Author on www.AGreatandTerribleBeauty.com,
Libba Bray says, Why do we do this to our girls? Why do we spend a
lifetime whittling them down into bite-sized nuggets, something easily
digested that will upset no stomach? Why cant we allow them to ask for
what they want? Does the novel answer that question? If so, how? Do
you believe that conditions for women have improved over the past
- The girls of Spence have a great deal of adult
supervision, but there is a glaring absence of parental love. What role
does this absence play in Gemmas and her friends lives and the
choices they make? Do you think Pippa would have made a different
choice had her parents behaved differently? How would Gemmas and
Felicitys lives be changed if their fathers were availablein Gemmas
case mentally, and in Felicitys case physically? What about Ann?
Its a dream, only a dream, Gemma thinks of her sexually charged
encounter with Kartik (p. 219). Why do you think Gemma stops the
fantasy when she does? Why do you think the author chose to make this
scene a dream rather than a reality? Do you believe this makes Gemmas
experience any less real to her?
- The Realms answer to
Gemmas desire for self-knowledge is Virginia Doyle. Why do you think
Gemma must understand her mother in order to understand herself? Gemma
concludes, Im going to have to let her go to accept the mother Im
only just discovering (p. 394). How are the two mothers Gemma refers
to different? Why does Gemma have to forgive her mother first if she is
to understand her?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.