Summary: Fourteen year-old Lily Owen, neglected by
her father and isolated on their South Carolina peach farm, spends hours
imagining a blissful infancy when she was loved and nurtured by her
mother, Deborah, whom she barely remembers. These consoling fantasies
are her heart's answer to the family story that as a child, in unclear
circumstances, Lily accidentally shot and killed her mother. All Lily
has left of Deborah is a strange image of a Black Madonna, with the
words "Tiburon, South Carolina" scrawled on the back. The
search for a mother, and the need to mother oneself, are crucial elements
in this well-written coming-of-age story set in the early 1960s against
a background of racial violence and unrest.
Themes: Searching for a mother; Fate, Finding support within oneself
1. Is this a “woman's book"? What are the indications of
The characters are primarily female and sympathetic. The males are either
one- dimensional (usually evil bigots or bad husbands) or not fully
developed (Zach is the exception, but too-good-to-be-true). Does this
exclude male readers?
2. Kidd's use of symbols:
pink house (w/blue bedroom)
bees (of course) & hives
the “wailing" wall
3. Finding worth in minorities is a chief concern. How does this apply
to these disenfranchised groups: (1) blacks (2) Catholics (3) women?
4. 1964. What effect does the period have on the story? Much attention
is paid to foods, songs, political scene, etc. Could this story be told
in any other timeframe?
5. There is a strong feeling that things are “meant to be,"
a type of fatalism. Coincidence: is it overkill or part of the novel's
6. This is a growing-up story, a bildunsroman. Discuss. In locating
the mystery of her mother she dis/un-covers herself.
7. Whites, with the exception of the nondescript lawyer, are universally
evil, bigoted. Again, overkill?
8. Discuss the nature of the Sisterhood. It's a religious, social group
(see their hats, food, color(s), ceremonies, etc.) Does this make you
think of any other similar group?
9. Is this a believable portrayal of a 14-year old? This is told in
retrospect, but not, seemingly, from an adult's retrospect. Is this
the book Lily is writing?
10 Lily condemns her mother for abandoning her, but not her father (who
also has been abandoned). Is this fair? Is it justified?
11. The 3 sisters - Fate? - discuss differences: May's depression (foreshadowed
death); June's reluctance to commit, once rejected (is she a fully realized
character?); August - "earth mother" - Mother Superior - Beekeeper
12. How does Rosaleen fit into the narrative? sidekick? nanny? victim?
Does she develop or change?
13. Does this book deserve a sequel? It seems many have asked for one
but the author seems reluctant to commit to one (see endnotes in Penguin
ed.). Is she guilty then of "abandonment" of her own characters?
Does the book leave one hanging, or is this a satisfying & believable
with Sue Monk Kidd
and Video Clips of Sue Monk Kidd
Questions provided by James Gifford.
This discussion guide made possible with public
funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency. Sponsored
by the Mohawk Valley Library System and participating member libraries.