Reading guide for George and Lizzie by Nancy Pearl

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George and Lizzie

by Nancy Pearl

George and Lizzie by Nancy Pearl X
George and Lizzie by Nancy Pearl
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2017, 288 pages
    Jul 2018, 288 pages


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Sarah Tomp
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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. Revisit the scene in the bowling alley beginning on page 5, when George and Lizzie first meet. How do their very different responses—Lizzie's laughter and George's annoyance—prefigure their very different approaches to life? Does the collision between their bowling balls act as a kind of omen for their future?
  2. When Andrea and Lizzie first conceive of the Great Game, Lizzie shares her reasoning behind wanting to follow through on the idea, "When my parents find out about it ... they'll finally have to realize that I'm not who they think I am. . . . I honestly think they never loved me at all." Do you believe that Lizzie participates in the Great Game only because of her strained relationship with her parents? What reaction was she hoping to elicit from them? Is it the failure to get the attention or reaction she wanted that haunts Lizzie into adulthood?
  3. How do George and Lizzie compare to one another? Do you think they live up to the maxim "opposites attract?" If George is "softhearted," how would you describe Lizzie?
  4. Discuss Jack and Lizzie's brief relationship. Why do you think it continues to be so important to her? What is it about Jack that so fascinates Lizzie? Do you think it is truly Jack that Lizzie loves—or is it an idea he represents?
  5. Consider for a moment the structure of the story. What effect do the interspersed recaps from the Great Game have on the narrative of George and Lizzie's relationship? Like Lizzie, are we as readers meant not to forget the past even as we learn about Lizzie and George's relationship?
  6. In many ways Allan and Elaine, George's parents, are meant to represent the "good" parents in the novel, the ones who do things right. How do they compare to Mendel and Lydia? Do you think Lizzie's classification of her parents as terrible human beings is fair?
  7. The novel is titled George & Lizzie, but much of the story centers on Lizzie's past relationships. Ultimately, is this Lizzie's story only? Is George primarily a supporting actor in the story of Lizzie's self-acceptance?
  8. When Marla and Lizzie meet the first day of college, it is obvious they are going to be lifelong friends. It is Marla, after all, who first got George's number at the bowling alley, and it is Marla who pushed Lizzie to accept George's invitation to come to Oklahoma with him for the holidays. Lizzie jokingly even says, "Yes, mother" in response to Marla's ideas about shopping for Chanukah gifts. Is Marla a surrogate mother to Lizzie? Do you think her willingness to step into a mothering role has to do with her earlier abortion?
  9. When George first reveals he is in love with Lizzie, he says, "You're probably one of the most self-centered people I've ever met. And, oh yeah, I'm pretty sure that I'm in love with you, although I can't imagine why." Does a version of this scene—where George puts himself in a vulnerable position—happen again in the novel? Does this vulnerability speak to the depth of George's capacity for love, or perhaps to Lizzie's inability to love?
  10. Is Lizzie's obsession with her past unusual or unhealthy? Do you think that her past mistakes are the reason she can't accept George's love at face value? In her estimation she is "flawed, imperfect, pretty terrible"—in short, she considers herself a bad person. Do you think Lizzie is unique in her self-loathing?
  11. George's philosophy as a dental guru might be summarized by the following words: "We're always writing the narrative of our lives, and when you respond badly you turn the event into a burden, something that you carry forward into the next moment, the next hour, the next day, and the rest of your life. It fills up your narrative." Discuss how this philosophy might be said to serve as a kind of theme for the novel.
  12. Respond to Lizzie's belief that "most people have a private self that's often deeply at odds with their public persona." Do you agree? Is Lizzie's private self so different from her public self?
  13. Is James's death the catalyst to bring Lizzie peace about her past? If he had lived, might the story have ended differently?

Enhance Your Book Club

  1. Poetry for Lizzie is an escape from her past, from her parents, and from the voices in her head. It is through poetry that she and Jack first begin a relationship, and it is largely poetry that sustains her when she is in the midst of the Great Game. Though Lizzie loves many poets, Edna St. Vincent Millay seems to be Lizzie's favorite. Suggestion: host a poetry reading with your group. Read from Millay's sonnets, such as no. 43 or no. 4. What do you notice about the sonnets? What seems to be a common theme among them? Why do you think the voices in Lizzie's head are quieted when she recites these poems?
  2. When George takes Lizzie to visit his grandparents, they sit down a big meal in the Jewish tradition. Suggestion: host a dinner party with your friends, replicating his grandmother's menu. Chicken soup with matzo balls, sweet and sour brisket, knishes and blintzes. For dessert, brownies and cream puffs. Over dinner, talk about your family holiday traditions. What are they? How does the experience at George's family compare to Lizzie's experiences growing up? Do you imagine it was easy for Lizzie to be thrown into a close-knit family?
  3. "Lizzie well knows that what you remember and what you forget is surpassingly strange." Most of the novel is devoted to Lizzie's memory, haunting her at every stage of her life. Suggestion: host a movie night with your book club, and watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. How do memory and lost love figure into both the movie and the novel? What are their similarities? Their differences? Do you think Lizzie would choose to get her memory erased, as Clementine does? Is forgetting easier than overcoming loss, in your opinion?
  4. Despite the fact that Lizzie is disturbed by her own behavior during the Great Game, football remains an important part of her life. In high school, her boyfriend Maverick was a star player; she enjoys going to Michigan games as a student and later as an alum. George shares her love for football, and the two share a bond over the game. Suggestion: attend a football game with your book club, or watch your local NFL team on television. Consider the ramifications of Lizzie's decision to participate in the Great Game. Why is she still interested in the sport? Is there a kind of beauty in the way the players on the field work together to share a common goal? See if your club members can think of how football might be a kind of metaphor for Lizzie's life.

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