Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
- Throughout the novel, the author uses quotes from Arthur Miller's The
Crucible and from the story of Jack and Jill. How do these quotes
increase your understanding of the story as a whole? In what ways do these
seemingly disparate sources work in terms of the subject matter?
- After pretending to be sick from school, Gillian explains to her friends,
"I am not faking; I'm method-acting." Method acting is often
described as a tool for telling the truth of a character under imaginary
circumstances. How might this definition help us better understand Gillian's
actions and her motivations in this novel? What is the truth in her life
that needs to be shared?
- The tension between truth and fiction is a major theme here. Similarly,
the concept of believing in lies so strongly that they become truth also
powers this narrative. To what extent do you think Gillian and the other
girls actually believe their own lies? Does this change for any of them by
- Throughout history, witches have been the victims of persecution.
Recently, witchcraft and pagan religions have gotten a lot of attention both
in the media and in popular culture. What drives our fascination with
witches and witchcraft? Why do you think some people seem to find it so
- In the same vein, what is so attractive about witchcraft to the girls of
Salem Falls, either in the stereotypical sense or in the realistic sense? Or
to any girls, for that matter?
- Do you know any people who practice Wicca? If so, how authentic is the
author's presentation of the religion? To what extent is this book about
spirituality/religion, and its abuse?
- In Salem Falls, much is made of the individual characters' point of
view. People seem to see what they need to see in order to keep their world
in order. In what way are characters in this novel affected, either
positively or negatively, by the lenses through which they see the world?
- What is the significance of Jack's role as a history teacher? How about
his vast knowledge of trivia?
- By the end of the story, the majority of the residents of Salem Falls
prove themselves to be rather suspicious, closed-minded people, yet somehow
Addie is not this way. This is interesting in light of the personal
tragedies she has endured through her life -- many of which would make most
people distrustful or bitter. What is it about her personality or her
experiences that allows her to take Jack in off the street?
- Delilah tells Jack early in the novel, "I think that all of us have
our ghosts." Although she may be literally addressing Addie's
situation, how does this concept apply to the other characters in Salem
Falls? Which ones, if any, successfully exorcise their ghosts?
- Who do you consider to be the strongest character in this story? Discuss
the different ways strength manifests itself in this novel and the various
degrees to which the characters maintain their strength -- or fail to.
- How much does setting affect this novel? How similar is the world of Salem
Falls to the world of The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter,
books from which the author clearly draws?
- At one point, as he is watching his students walk to the locker room, Jack
thinks to himself, "Beauty is truth, and truth, beauty." Do you
agree with this? What do you think the novel suggests?
- Do you believe that Jack, in light of all his experiences, should be
totally free from blame? Are there instances when his judgment seems to be
off, or is he truly the unluckiest man in the world?
- Jack's mother forgives the prostitute that her late husband was seeing, so
much so that she invites her to live with her, yet she immediately turns on
her own son when he is accused of rape. How can one account for this shift
in her character? Is it a shift? Were you surprised that she did not ask for
his side of the story, or do you think there is some sort of solidarity
among women that transcends familial ties?
- Picoult tells the story of Jack's life backward, to the moment of his
birth. How do these flashbacks affect the present-day story, and why do you
think she chose to do this?
- Should a verbal accusation of rape be enough to set the judicial wheels
turning? Explain, using the examples of both Catherine Marsh and Addie
- Compare the father/daughter relationships of Addie and Roy, Gillian and
Amos, Charlie and Meg, Matt Houlihan and Molly, and Catherine and Reverend
Marsh. How does the bond formed between parent and child influence each of
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Washington Square Press.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.