MLA Platinum Award Press Release

Reading guide for The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams

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The Illness Lesson

by Clare Beams

The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams X
The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams
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  • Published:
    Feb 2020, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. Why do you think the author chose to begin the story with the red birds, or "trilling hearts"? How did they set the tone for the rest of the novel?
  2. Each chapter begins with a quote from the novel-within-a-novel, The Darkening Glass, which represents a cultural touchstone for the characters. Can you think of a literary work that carries similar popularity and relevance in our current time?
  3. Caroline observes that her father imagines the students as "a kind of beautiful clay: dense, rich, formless, and waiting for him." What do you think this says about his intentions as a teacher? Have you ever had a teacher who wielded this kind of influence?
  4. Eliza is the students' ringleader and she is also the first to fall ill. How did your feelings towards Eliza change over the course of the novel?
  5. The "treatment" that Dr. Hawkins administers is based on a real historical treatment for "hysteria." What do you think his methods say about the 19th century understanding of women's bodies?
  6. How does the atmosphere of the school change after Sophia's abrupt departure? What effect does being the only adult woman left at Trilling Heart have on Caroline?
  7. What did you make of Caroline's decision at the end of the novel? If you were in her position, do you think you would have made a different one?


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