Reading guide for Before We Sleep by Jeffrey Lent

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Before We Sleep

by Jeffrey Lent

Before We Sleep by Jeffrey Lent X
Before We Sleep by Jeffrey Lent
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  • Published:
    May 2017, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Zoë Fairtlough

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About this Book

Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

About this book
Katey Snow, age seventeen, slips out of her house and into the night. She carries a bundle of letters between her mother, Ruth, and an old army friend of her father's. Katey has just learned that Oliver, whom she adores, is not her biological father. With this knowledge she takes off, searching for the man from the letters, who just might have some answers for her.

In Before We Sleep, master storyteller Jeffrey Lent tells the intertwining stories of Katey and Ruth. As Katey traverses the country, we learn of Ruth's life with Oliver: courtship, marriage, separation due to war , reconciliation. When Oliver returns, Ru th finds a changed man, along with many challenges for their relationship. Still , over the years Oliver and Ruth find a comfortable rhythm — until now, as Katey's disappea rance may irrevocably alter their lives .

Before We Sleep
is an accomplished and sweeping novel about family, secrets and, ultimately, the meaning of love.


For discussion
  1. How does the cover introduce the novel and its themes? Think about the image and the color scheme in relation to the broader work. Did the cover affect the way you approached the book? What emotions does the cover evoke in you?
  2. Discuss the various points of views in the novel. Did you connect particularly to one POV? What effect do the POV switches have on your reading experience, particularly the one section devoted to Oliver's POV ?
  3. Ruth's first section begins with a family history of the Hales. Meanwhile, Katey is on a search to find out more about her parentage. How does lineage play into both Ruth 's and Katey's stories? In what ways is it a comfort and in what ways does it burden them?
  4. What are the various depictions of motherhood in this novel? Consider Katey and Ruth, but also Ruth's relationship with her own mother, Jo. Do any of these characters meet others who might take on a maternal role?
  5. How does place play into the novel? Katey continues to move around the country while Ruth grapples with spaces in her home community. What places are safe and what places are risky for these characters? Do the places evolve or stay stagnant?
  6. Katey and Ruth are of different generations, but both face war, questions of social justice, and political strife in their respective eras. What are Ruth's principles? What are Katey's? In what ways does Katey understand her role in politics through growing up with her knowledge of Oliver's life as a soldier? In what ways does her understanding shift as she meets strangers on her trip?
  7. Music plays a large role in this novel. How does it act as a healing force? Does it ever connect people? Early on in the novel , Katey "nod[s] her head in time to a music that was not playing anywhere except within her." How does this passage show a relationship between Katey and Oliver?
  8. How do characters in the novel respond to and live in spaces of nature? For example, Katey' s first mission is to see the ocean. Later, we also learn that one of her strongest relationships was with a dog. How does nature shape her character? Are other characters as invested in the natural world?
  9. What are the various traumas that the characters encounter through this book? How does the trauma of war compare to the trauma of being left at home? How does trauma trickle through generations?
  10. Throughout the novel, Lent provides detailed descriptions of food. While food can signify domesticity and c ommunity, it can also be a symbol for hunger and consumption. What symbols is Lent drawing on through his extensive inclusion of meals? Do the symbols change through the novel?
  11. Katey's road trip signifies both her quest for a greater understanding of herself and her search for a place in the wider world. Oliver expresses a similar sentiment when he tells Ruth: " I don't fit. Not here. Not anywhere. Not in this life." By the end of the novel, have Katey, Oliver, and Ruth found where they belong?
  12. As Katey continues on her trip, she learns about new places and people. Yet much of the time the narrative incorporates her memories into the story. How does Lent layer memory with discovery? What effect does this la yering have on your understanding of the past and present in this story?
  13. Katey's rape is a turning point for her emotional health. How does she come to understand her body and relationships with men? How does this violation change her course of action?
  14. Katey makes new friends with Phoebe and Luna on her trip. How does she approach her friendships? How does female friendship help Katey grow and also hinder her?
  15. Oliver tells Ruth that he loves her but that he just isn't "sure what that means, anymore." At the close of the novel have Katey, Oliver, and Ruth constructed definitions of love? Do these definitions match or are they incongruent? In what ways do you predict their definitions of love will affect their future relationships with each other?


Recommended reading

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
The Patriots by Sana Krasikov
The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck
The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff
The Girls by Emma Cline

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