Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
- The novel is narrated by a collective voice of B-Mor residents, telling the story of Fan from a distance of some years. Why do you think the author chose to narrate the book this way? What does the collective narration add to the book? How might it read differently if it had been told as a much closer third-person narration? What if it had been told by Fan herself?
- How does the author implicitly explain this narrator's ability to describe events that happened beyond the physical limits of B-Mor?
- Legend and storytelling are major themes in the story itself-from the legend of Fan as it is narrated by the collective B-Mor residents to (within that larger story) the story Quig tells Fan about his past, the tale that Fan has heard about the brother she never really knew, and the stories represented on the murals of the kept girls in the charter village. Do these stories have anything in common with one another, either in their telling or their effect on their audience? What about the stories' effect on the tellers themselves? What do you think the author is saying about the nature of storytelling?
- Fan's journey is a quest narrative, a storytelling form that traditionally tells about a hero's transformation. Fan, though, doesn't fundamentally change from the start of the novel to the end. Why do you think this is true? What has changed over the course of the novel?
- By the time the events of the novel begin, Reg has already disappeared. Why do you think the author has chosen not to introduce us to Reg as an active character during the novel?
- There is a period of growing discontent within B-Mor. What do you think accounts for this situation? How is it resolved? Do you think Fan would have left B-Mor if Reg had not disappeared? Do you think any of the discontent within B-Mor would have occurred if Fan had not gone after Reg?
- Think about race and how it is used in the book. In some ways this is a postracial America, but in other important ways, old prejudices linger. In addition, new divisions seem to have sprung up in place of racial discord. What are some of these divisions and how do they affect the characters and their lives? What do you think the author was trying to accomplish in this way?
- What do you think are the most significant quality-of-life differences between the settlements and the charter villages? Where are people the happiest, and why? What are the appeals of life in the Open Counties? Why haven't more B-Mor residents like Fan ever left their settlement? Where do you think that you would be the happiest?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Riverhead Books.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.