Reading guide for The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

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The Burgess Boys

by Elizabeth Strout

The Burgess Boys
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2013, 336 pages
    Apr 2014, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. How did the narrator's introduction telegraph your expectations about the Burgess family?
  2. Jim and Bob Burgess both left Shirley Falls for New York City. Why there, when they could have gone anywhere? And why did Susan stay behind?
  3. The Burgess siblings have lived with a childhood trauma their whole lives. How has each one compensated for this in his or her personal and professional adult life?
  4. Which Burgess brother, Jim or Bob, did you find more sympathetic? Did you find yourself changing your mind as the story unfolded?
  5. To many readers, Jim may seem more competent than Bob in dealing with Zach's "prank." Do you agree? If not, why not?
  6. What did you learn about the Somali population in Shirley Falls? How do you see this as a particularly American story, if you do? And if not, why not? Initially, each of the Burgess siblings reacts uniquely to the Somali population. What do you think causes each individual response, and how do you see it change?
  7. When Jim reveals his own childhood secret, what journey does Bob have to take to first separate from and then return to his brother, Jim? What about their relationship has changed? What, if anything, remains the same?
  8. What do you think compelled Zach to throw the pig's head into the mosque?
  9. Both Burgess brothers are lawyers. How do their inner lives reflect their very different professional choices?
  10. How do Helen and Susan's roles as mothers define them?
  11. How does the Burgess family's multigenerational history in Shirley Falls add to the siblings' emotional challenges?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Random House. 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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