Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
An electrifying follow-up to her bestselling I Was Amelia Earhart
Jane Mendelsohn's Innocence
is a modern gothic coming-of-age story, a
devastating x-ray of American culture, and a piercing exploration of the inner
life of a teenage girl growing up in New York City. Narrated with incisive wit
by fourteen-year-old Becket, the novel traces her relationship with her widowed
father, her encounters with the intimidating Beautiful Girls at school, her
attraction to the mysterious and dangerous school nurse, her attachment to the
raffish Tobey, and a series of devastating nightmares that threaten Becket's
life as she moves from girl to woman.
Mendelsohn has written an allegory about the precarious state of the American
teenager in a culture that sucks the life force out of its young, who are
nurtured by movies and fantasy and narcissism rather than by values such as
honesty or love. This is a world as startlingly original and hauntingly familiar
as our dreams, where the line between fantasy and reality, between sanity and
insanity, is razor-thin. Playful, frightening, profound, and gripping, Innocence
is that rare thing--a page-turner with the depth of poetry and the immediacy of
- Toward the end of Innocence, Beckett says, "What matters
isn't whether something is real. What matters is if it is true."
What do you think she means? What might the difference be between a
"real" story and a "true" story? What do you think the
author wants you to believe about this story?
- Beckett's relationship with Pamela is complicated by her need for a mother
figure and conflicting fear of losing her father. Discuss the way in which
her feelings change when she starts menstruation. Does this event bring her
closer to Pamela? Is her relationship with her father affected? If so, how?
- As Beckett matures physically, she becomes more beautiful. But she also
begins to suffer dark visions and bleak thoughts. What do you think
Mendelsohn is implying about the relationship between youth and
innocence/maturity and worldliness? How else does she demonstrate this theme
in the book?
- As narrator, Beckett maintains an ironic tone. Does this make her appear
more credible, or less?
- Beckett seems to believe that the pills she is given weaken her hold on
reality. Discuss the roles that medication and altered states of mind play
in Innocence. What do you think the scene at the water fountain
suggests about teens and antidepressants?
- Since Innocence is narrated by a teenager, it may not be surprising
that there are no good adults in this novel. Even Beckett's father betrays
her. Discuss the implications of this. Does the author suggest that the
common "us versus them" mentality of teens results from a lack of
understanding by adults?
- Beckett is haunted by foreboding dreams. Discuss the relationship between
these dreams and Beckett's reality. Can you tell where one ends and the
other begins, or is it confusing? How does this affect your reading of the
- "There's a character in every horror movie who doesn't die. She's
the survivor, the Final Girl." What does Beckett mean when she
describes herself as the Final Girl on page 7? What do you think it says
about teen culture and values?
- Mendelsohn's writing is full of startlingly fresh imagery. Discuss how she
uses this imageryfor instance on the opening and next-to-last pagesto
reflect Beckett's state of mind and character development.
- Throughout the novel, Mendelsohn alludes to classic works of literature
and film (from Alice in Wonderland to Rosemary's Baby). How
does Mendelsohn use these references to comment on contemporary teenage
life? Discuss the role movie imagery plays in the novel.
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