Reading guide for Blackbird House by Alice Hoffman

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Blackbird House

by Alice Hoffman

Blackbird House
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2004, 240 pages
    Mar 2005, 256 pages

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

In a rare and gorgeous departure, beloved novelist Alice Hoffman weaves a web of tales all set in Blackbird House. This small farm on the outer reaches of Cape Cod is a place that is as bewitching and alive as the characters we meet: Violet, a brilliant girl who is in love with books and with a man destined to betray her; Lysander Wynn, attacked by a halibut as big as a horse, certain that his life is ruined until a boarder wearing red boots arrives to change everything; Maya Cooper, who does not understand the true meaning of love between her mother and father until it is nearly too late. From the time of the British occupation of Massachusetts to our own modern world, family after family’s lives are inexorably changed not only by the people they love, but by the lives they lead inside Blackbird House.

The questions that follow are designed to enhance your discussion and personal reading of Blackbird House.

  1. Abandonment and loss are important themes in Blackbird House. In what ways do the characters deal with these issues? Which characters are similar in their responses? What other themes do the stories have in common?

  2. In the first story, Coral sees several signs of impending doom. What are they? How does the return of the (now white) blackbird confirm her worst fears? What does the white crow symbolize throughout the other tales?

  3. What other images from nature does Alice Hoffman use throughout Blackbird House? What do they represent?

  4. Both Vincent Hadley and Ruth Blackbird Hill are helpless to save their dying family members. What effect does that have on their lives? What other characters are affected by helplessness?

  5. How does Ruth's daughter help her to come to terms with the death of her husband? What other characters lose their true loves? How do they cope?

  6. In "Lionheart," Violet West asks her husband if he thinks she has made a mistake by pushing Lion to go to Harvard. did she make a mistake? What do you think would have happened if Lion had stayed at Blackbird House?

  7. What is it that attracts Lion West, Jr. to Dorey? How does Violet test Dorey and how does Dorey ultimately win her over?

  8. In "Wedding and Snow and Ice," Jamie Farrell discovers that neighbor Rosalyn Brooks has shot her husband in self-defense and helps her to dispose of the body. What do you think happened between Grace and Rosalyn that night? Do you think she ever discussed it with her son? What effect did the events of that evening have on her own marriage?

  9. In "India," Maya and Kalkin Cooper feel emotionally abandoned by their parents. What contributes to the deep misunderstanding between them? Why does it take the deaths of her father and brother for Maya to be able to see the situation more clearly?

  10. What historic events tie the stories together? What role does war play in the lives of the residents of Blackbird House?

  11. How does Emma's illness change Katherine's relationship with Walker? What leads to the mistrust between them? How is it resolved?

  12. In "Wish You Were Here," Emma goes to Blackbird House with the intention of selling. Do you think she followed through with that plan?

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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