Reading guide for Other People's Children by R.J. Hoffmann

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Other People's Children

by R.J. Hoffmann

Other People's Children by R.J. Hoffmann X
Other People's Children by R.J. Hoffmann
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  • Published:
    Apr 2021, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Callum McLaughlin
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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. From the start, we learn about Gail and Jon's struggle to have a baby. After suffering three miscarriages, Gail and Jon turn to adoption, a process with its own unique stresses. What are their respective coping mechanisms to deal with the uncertainty?
  2. Through flashbacks, we learn about Jon's troubled childhood. His mother was depressed and neglectful. How do these memories inform his concerns about fatherhood?
  3. When Carli first considers reclaiming her baby, Paige repeats to herself, "Right down the middle. Don't take sides. Right down the middle" (p. 145). Does Paige stay neutral? How does she help Carli, Gail, and Jon make their decisions?
  4. Carli studies psychology at school. At one point, she slogs through Carol Gilligan's ethics of care, which state that "At the first level, girls make important decisions based upon what's best for them... . At the second level, women make their decisions based upon what's best for others." Then she reads: "Lots of women never make it to the third level ... where women balance their moral choices between their own needs and care for others. Do no harm to yourself and do no harm to others" (p. 140). What level describes Carli's development at different points in the novel?
  5. Gail and Jon's decision to flee with Maya is spontaneous. Gail asks, "'What if we take her?'" (p. 177) and Jon agrees. What propels them to make this radical decision? How do you feel about their decision, and how do you think you would react if presented with their situation?
  6. How does R.J. Hoffmann make you sympathize with all the characters and their decisions, even though the situation pits them against one another?
  7. Gail and Jon's marriage struggles under the expectations and disappointments involved in their desire to have a baby. How does touch meaningfully play into their marriage?
  8. While sharpening knives, Gail thinks about her father's advice to "Feel the balance of it" (p. 243). What does he mean by this? How does this advice influence Gail while she's on the run with Jon and Maya?
  9. Marla pressures Carli to reclaim the baby because Marla wants the chance to become a good grandmother and compensate for how she raised her daughters, Carli and Wendy. On the other hand, Paige suspects that if Carli reclaims the baby, "Marla would watch Maya once, maybe twice... . She would make excuses, make herself scarce, and Carli would realize how alone she really was" (p. 144). Do you think Paige is right? Would Marla make a good grandmother, or would she be absent again? What is "good" parenting and grandparenting?
  10. Marla is an abusive mother. When experiencing anger, she "felt nothing but the heat, her vision went black around the edges, and her fists hardened" (p. 273). Why does Marla lash out at the people she loves? What does her anger say about her? How much of her anger is due to her circumstances and how much of it is her personality?
  11. How does R.J. Hoffmann develop the novel from a family drama into a thriller? How did your reading experience change as you progressed through the story?
  12. According to Paige, Marla and Carli live in a neighborhood where "All the houses on Carli's block looked depressingly the same" (p. 123). Gail and Jon are middle class with access to more resources and money. How do socioeconomic issues manifest in the characters' dynamics? How does it manifest in the conflict over Maya?
  13. Carli is surprised to learn about Paige's teenage pregnancy and decision to keep her daughter against her mother's wishes. Paige says she works for the adoption agency "So that girls like us have a choice" (p. 339). Did Paige's backstory surprise you?
  14. How do you feel about the novel's ending? Did all the characters get what they wanted or deserved?
  15. After finishing the book, reexamine the title. In what ways can it be interpreted?

Enhance Your Book Club

  1. With its emotional twists and riveting getaway, Other People's Children has cinematic qualities that lend themselves to film. Who would you cast as its stars?
  2. Gail and Jon deal with the intricacies and stresses of the adoption process. Does anyone in your group have personal experience with adoption? Do some research and discuss your findings: What is the process of domestic adoption? What kind of requirements are involved and what is the time line?
  3. The book takes place in Elmhurst and Morris, Illinois. Plan a trip with your book club to explore the cities!
  4. Supplement your fictional experience and learn about the real history of adoption in America. Check out books such as American Baby by Gabrielle Glaser, or watch the documentary Three Identical Strangers (dir. Tim Wardle).


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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