Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
"In the end," writes Tori McClure, "I know I rowed across the Atlantic to
find my heart, but in the beginning, I wasn't aware that it was missing."
During June 1998, Tori McClure set out to row across the Atlantic Ocean by
herself in a twenty-three-foot plywood boat with no motor or sail. Within days
she lost all communication with shore, but nevertheless she decided to keep
going. Not only did she lose the sound of a friendly voice, she lost updates on
the location of the Gulf Stream and on the weather. Unfortunately for Tori, 1998
is still on record as the worst hurricane season in the North Atlantic. In deep
solitude and perilous conditions, she was nonetheless determined to prove what
one person with a mission can do. When she was finally brought to her knees by a
series of violent storms that nearly killed her, she had to signal for help and
go home in what felt like complete disgrace.
Back in Kentucky, however, Tori's life began to change in unexpected ways. She
fell in love. At the age of thirty-five, she embarked on a serious relationship
for the first time, making her feel even more vulnerable than sitting alone in a
tiny boat in the middle of the Atlantic. She went to work for Muhammad Ali, who
told her that she did not want to be known as the woman who "almost" rowed
across the Atlantic Ocean. And she knew that he was right.
In this thrilling story of high adventure and romantic quest, Tori McClure
discovers through her favorite waythe hard waythat the most important thing in
life is not to prove you are superhuman but to fully embrace your own humanity.
With a wry sense of humor and a strong voice, she gives us a true memoir of an
explorer who maps her world with rare emotional honesty.
Questions for Discussion
- What does the title A Pearl in the Storm mean? What are the
pearls Tori Murden McClure refers to?
- Humility, tenacity, courage, knowledge, pain, anger, despair, and hope
are all themes of the book. How are they manifested individually in the
story? How are they connected?
- The most common question about the trip asked was, "why do it?" Why did
Tori want to row solo across the Atlantic? What was she seeking? What was
lacking in her life before her journey?
- The author responded to critics with a question of her own. "How are we
human beings to progress without testing our limits or going behind what is
known?" How would you answer her?
- "I didn't expect the Atlantic to make me a better person. But I did
expect the Atlantic to make me a wiser person," Tori writes. Did her journey
make her wiser? Did she underestimate her expectationsdid it make her a
better person as well?
- What is your opinion of Tori? How would you describe her? Did your view
of her change through the course of the book?
- Would Tori have come under such scrutiny for her ambitions if she'd been
a man? Why is there still a double standard when it comes to the
achievements of men and women? Do you think she is a good role model for
both girls and boys?
- Talk about her childhood and her relationship with her brother Lamar.
How did it shape her life and lead her to a solo venture across the
- Throughout the memoir, Tori speaks of "helplessness." Why is this so
crucial to her? Why does she equate love with helplessness? How does her
- Tori took a number of books, music, and even portraits of the
presidents. Why did she choose these items? If you were to undertake a
journey like this, what might you take?
- During the trip, the author listens to a lecture about Aristotle and
ponders the relationship between courage and knowledge. "Aristotle believed
that humanity is influenced more by fear than it is by faith." Do you agree
with this? How do courage and knowledge relate to fear and faith?
- When Hurricane Danielle hit the American Pearl, Tori waited through
horrendous conditions before finally setting off the emergency beacon. She
could have died out there. Why did she wait so long?
- For months after the attempt, the author harbored shame for having
"failed." Why do you think she so firmly held this opinion of herself? In
your eyes, did she fail?
- When she decided to make a second attempt to cross the Atlantic, Tori
vowed, "This time, things will be different." What was different about the
second trip? How was she different?
- What impact did the journey across the Atlantic ultimately have on the
author? What lessons did you take away from A Pearl in the Storm?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Harper.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.