Reading guide for We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

by Karen Joy Fowler

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
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  • First Published:
    May 2013, 320 pages
    Feb 2014, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Judy Krueger

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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. Early on in We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, the character Rosemary Cooke tells the reader that she will start her story "in the middle." Why is it important to her to skip the beginning?

  2. Rosemary recounts many memories of the chimpanzee Fern and their brief life together. How were she and Fern, in the language of the novel, "Same" and "NotSame"? What does their relationship suggest about the compatibility of humans and primates? How are humans different from other animals?

  3. How did being co-raised with a chimpanzee impact Rosemary's development? In what ways was she different from other, "normal" children? How does she still differ from them to this day?

  4. Consider Rosemary's father and mother. Are they good parents? Should they have handled Fern's leaving any differently? If so, how?

  5. Each member of the Cooke family was dramatically-indeed, traumatically-affected by the loss of Fern. Did they share a personal sense of guilt? Of regret? Of responsibility for what happened? If so, how did these emotions manifest themselves in each family member? How do their responses enrich our understanding of these people?

  6. What is your opinion of Rosemary's brother, Lowell Cooke? Are his extreme views and actions at all justified? Does he truly have Fern's well-being at heart?

  7. How does Harlow Fielding's whirlwind entrance into Rosemary Cooke's world alter Rosemary's trajectory through life?

  8. Think about the significance of memory and storytelling in the novel. How is Rosemary's memory-and, consequently, her narrative-affected by the emotional trauma she has experienced?

  9. Consider Harlow Fielding and Ezra Metzger's failed attempt to liberate monkeys from the primate center, both the motivations of these co-conspirators and the outcome itself. Was their mission in any way an admirable act? How were Harlow and Ezra's intentions different or similar to Lowell's?

  10. Do you think Rosemary comes to find peace with her family history by the end of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves?

  11. Is animal experimentation ever justified? If so, under what circumstances?

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