Reading guide for Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley

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Lily and the Octopus

by Steven Rowley

Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley X
Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2016, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2017, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sharry Wright
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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. Ted agonizes over the fact that Lily's octopus has gone unnoticed by both of them for so long. Discuss how he internalizes his grief, transforming it into guilt. How would you react in his shoes?
  2. The book is divided into eight sections, each with an octopus-related theme. What other octopus imagery and symbolism did you find in the book?
  3. Ted hates "living in the not knowing" (p. 31). How does this aversion to uncertainty affect his personal relationships? Do you think this attitude changes over the course of the novel?
  4. There is a level of trust shared between Ted and Lily that does not seem to extend to the humans in his life. Discuss how trust requires a kind of courage that humans find difficult to muster. Is it possible to replicate the unconditional love of a dog? Why or why not?
  5. Ted notes that Lily has been the closest witness to his life. Discuss why this is clarifying for him. How can new perspectives become powerful?
  6. Throughout the novel, we learn that omens can be just as bad as they are good. What happens when Ted goes looking for more omens? Where do they lead him?
  7. What role does forgiveness play in this novel? Who does Ted ultimately make peace with, and at what point?
  8. Lily admits that she has not held onto a single bad memory. In fact, she does not have many memories at all. Still, she adores Ted's stories. Discuss how memories can become their own forms of storytelling. What does Ted learn from distilling their shared history?
  9. The vet has warned Ted that as she gets older, Lily may start to encounter Enclosed World Syndrome. How is this syndrome mirrored in Ted's own life? Do you recognize the phenomenon?
  10. Ted catches a glimpse of himself in the glass door by the pool and recognizes the octopus. Discuss the meaning of this scene. Why do you think this conflation of identity occurs in his mind's eye?
  11. The tattoo artist, Kal, claims to enjoy the permanence of his work. Ted is skeptical that permanence even exists. Did you see anything in the novel that you felt to be permanent? If so, what was it?
  12. One idea that Ted is partial to is karma. Karma implies a sense of causality and order to the universe. Do you think that his opinion evolves as Lily gets sicker?
  13. Discuss the scene in which Ted finally acknowledges that the octopus is, in fact, a tumor. What has changed? Did he kill the octopus? What is the significance of this semantic twist?
  14. Lily loves her red ball. Ted even goes so far as to suggest that hers is not a life without it. Discuss the symbolism of the ball, especially in Ted's dream when he loses Lily in a storm of them.
  15. What does Ted see in Byron? Do you see a happy future for the two of them?


Enhance Your Book Club
  1. Ted takes solace in the J. M. Barrie quote "To die would be an awfully big adventure," and the book calls upon Rudyard Kipling for its two epigraphs. Did you read Peter Pan or The Jungle Book? Discuss your memorable childhood reading experiences and whether you would go so far as to tattoo a favorite line on your body.
  2. W. H. Auden's "Funeral Blues" is a beautiful poem of all-encompassing grief. Pull up a copy and read it aloud together. Compare and contrast the lines that resonate with each of you, sharing any memories that they evoke along the way.
  3. In honor of Lily and Ted's last great adventure, take a group trip to the local aquarium or science center to consider the octopus or any of its underwater friends in their natural habitat. (Take care to remember that they are not all evil!)
  4. Everyone needs a good pep talk once in a while. Treat yourselves to an episode of Friday Night Lights and soak in Coach Taylor's inspiring words.


Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Simon & Schuster. 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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