Reading guide for The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

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The Rules of Magic

by Alice Hoffman

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman X
The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2017, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2018, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Michelle Anya Anjirbag
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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. We learn that the rules of magic are to harm no one, remember that what you give will be returned to you threefold, and fall in love whenever you can. Do Franny, Jet, and Vincent live by these rules? What happens when they break them? What set of rules would you live by?
  2. Make note of the part titles. What do the titles add to the narrative? Why do you think the author chose the titles she did?
  3. Alice Hoffman's novels are often woven with qualities that earn them a place in the genre of magical realism. Discuss how she achieves this writing style. What details do you notice she includes? What sources of inspiration does she draw from?
  4. When the Owens siblings visit Aunt Isabelle for the first time, she tells them a story about a cousin named Maggie, who was turned into a rabbit. She warns Franny, Jet, and Vincent that this "is what happens when you repudiate who you are" (page 30). Each is certain that the harrowing tale was meant to caution her or him specifically. How do they interpret it differently? Why do you think Isabelle shared this story?
  5. If you are familiar with Practical Magic, you already know that the Owenses' ancestor, Maria, cast a curse that brought an end to any man who fell in love with a member of the family. In The Rules of Magic, we uncover the secret that they are "all descendants of a witch-finder and a witch" (page 138). What is revealed about Maria's love affair? Does it help us understand the reasoning behind the curse?
  6. Frances in particular seems to wrestle the most with the curse, even with her Maid of Thorns reputation. Why is this so? Why do you think she can't embrace love the way her siblings do?
  7. Forgiveness quickly becomes a large theme of the novel. After their parents die, Jet develops a deep self-hatred. The distrust between Franny and Haylin only grows after the incident at Turtle Pond, and Vincent's own heavy secrets burden him. Discuss how the characters work through their conflicts, and whether or not they are able to resolve the issues.
  8. There is something magical about Vincent's music. Audiences are spellbound by his performances, even early on in Isabelle's garden. His song, "I Walk at Night," seems to tell the past and the future, like a prophecy. Discuss which lines you liked best. Did you notice any that foreshadowed events? What references do the lyrics make? When he says, "I walked at night, I longed to fight" (page 217), what do you think he means?
  9. One summer night while walking his dog, Harry, Vincent stumbles upon the Stonewall riots, often recognized as the origin of the gay rights movement in the United States. What do you know about this historical event? Do you think the revolt changed him? How do the riots contrast with Vincent and William's trip to California during the Summer of Love?
  10. Jet also wanders through a historical event inspired by the Human Be-In, held in Central Park on Easter Sunday of 1967. She accidentally ingests LSD and almost drowns herself in one of the park's ponds. What brought Jet to this moment? Would you consider it her rock bottom? When she meets Rafael, he begins to pull Jet out of her despair. How does their love help her recover, and how does it differ from her relationship with Levi?
  11. When Vincent and William visit April in California, she remarks, "Fate is what you make of it. . . . You can make the best of it or you can let it make the best of you" (page 220). In a novel that often seems ruled by fate, how do the characters determine their own destinies? How is the advice applicable to April's own life?
  12. Vincent's fate is altered when he is drafted to Vietnam in one of the country's most unpopular and controversial wars. Do you think his sisters did the right thing by smuggling him out of the country? What would you have done if you or a loved one were drafted at the time?
  13. When Haylin, the love of Franny's life, dies from cancer, she asks her sister, "How will I ever love anyone again?" Of course, Sally and Gillian Owens, recently orphaned through a tragedy of their own, become the answer to that question. Still, this is an issue that resurfaces throughout the book. In a family where love is destined to bring loss, how do the characters continue to find the courage to love more, not less?

Enhance Your Book Club

  1. New York City and the 1960s influence the novel's culture and history. Explore some of the events and people mentioned in the novel, such as popular musicians, fashion styles, historical figures, and events. Use the information to design a themed walking tour in the city.
  2. Jet gives Levi a copy of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, a book his father has forbidden. Pick the novel for your next book club and discuss why you think the Reverend would want to keep it from his son. How are its themes similar to The Rules of Magic? How are Hester Prynne and Maria Owens alike?
  3. The Owenses' Grimoire is described as an overstuffed tome bound in a covering that resembled frog skin, cool to the touch. Full of powerful magic and charms, it would burn anyone who was not its rightful owner. Create your own Book of Shadows. What kinds of spells and amulets would be included in it? Would it be dark magic, like The Magus? Would it have rules to abide by?


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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