I can speak to your book club on the phone, via Skype, or in person! (San Diego area) E-mail me at: margaretdilloway(at)gmail(dot)com with your desired date and time. It’s free!
Here’s are two guides for your book club discussions:
The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns Reading Group Guide
1. Consider the title of the book – what multiple meanings might it convey?
2. In the early chapters, as we’re getting to know Gal as a character, what is your opinion of her? Does her struggle with kidney disease affect your perception of her character?
3. Gal often views the world in black and white, and is inclined to stick to rules in the name of order and fairness. But at times, other adults in the story question or undermine her decisions, believing that individual circumstances merit a special response. Whom did you agree with during these conflicts? Do you see rules more as guidelines that should be flexible, or do exceptions make rules meaningless?
4. The book highlights the complex and fraught system of organ donation, where in the face of a limited supply of organs, potential recipients must be ranked according to criteria that may not always seem fair . . . and this ranking can mean the difference between life and death. Do you agree with Gal’s implication that she’s more deserving of a kidney than Mark? What criteria would you take into account if you were doing the ranking?
5. Gal’s interactions with Dr. Blankenship show the sometimes difficult relationship between doctors and patients. What factors might account for such conflicts? What could Gal and Dr. Blankenship have done better to resolve these issues?
6. Riley comes to live with Gal at a fragile time, during her teenage years when she’s still trying to identify interests, solidify skills, and find her passions. How does living with Gal help her grow in these respects? Which other adults and peers also influence her development?
7. Irresponsible, flaky Becky is an interesting foil to Gal, who is rigidly consistent in both her outlook and actions. Did your opinion of Becky change over the course of the novel? Do you sympathize at all with the struggles she faces, and the choices she makes?
8. As we learn in the book, rose breeding and cultivation is both a competitive endeavor that can lead to financial gain, and a collegial undertaking in which fellow hobbyists share tips and information for mutual benefit. How do Gal and the other breeders handle the fine line between sharing and competing? Do you think Gal’s anger toward Byron was justified?
9. In what ways does Gal transform by the end of the story, as a teacher, sister, friend, and stand-in parent?
How to Be an American Housewife Reading Group Guide
1. How to Be an American Housewife is partially based on the author and her mother’s personal experiences. As a reader, do you find it more interesting when you know that there is a nonfiction element to the story?
2. Did you sympathize with Shoko’s decision not to marry Ronin? Do you think she could have—or should have—accepted his proposal?
3. Shoko marries Charlie in order to leave Japan and live a more comfortable life in America. She thinks Charlie will make a good husband, but she doesn’t yet love him. Does she turn out to be wrong, or right? Would she have been better off staying in Japan, and marrying a Japanese man?
4. A recurrent theme in the novel is how mothers and daughters communicate (for better and worse). In what ways did you feel that the difficulties between Shoko and Sue were universal to mothers and daughters, and in what ways were they cultural? How is this borne out in Sue’s relationship with Helena?
5. Shoko and Sue represent very different models and standards of motherhood, caretaking, and housekeeping. What do you consider their strengths and weaknesses, and what would you consider the most essential qualities?
6. The chapters are introduced with snippets from Shoko’s “How to Be an American Housewife” guidebook. How did you respond to that book’s advice? Did it surprise you to learn that the author’s mother had a very similar book, and that many women like Shoko were expected to follow its advice?
7. Shoko’s guidebook advises women to raise their sons differently from their daughters. Do you think boys and girls are raised differently in all cultures, including your own, and what impact does this have on all of us?
8. Prejudice and stereotypes are prevalent themes in the novel. The “How to Be an American Housewife” guidebook that Shoko is given by Charlie is largely based on stereotypes of Japanese and American cultures. It seems that all the characters feel or experience prejudice to some degree or another. Discuss the various forms of prejudice and stereotype in the novel, and their impact on the characters. Have you experienced similar sorts of prejudice in your own life?
9. The author took a risk by having two different narrators, both of whom have strengths and flaws. Are you more drawn to Sue or to Shoko? Do you think the story would have been stronger or weaker with one narrator?
10. Sue’s life and her sense of herself and her options are quite narrow and confined at the beginning of the novel. Her world expands dramatically by the novel’s end. How do the outer circumstances of Sue’s life change how she views herself on the inside? Do you think it’s significant that she finds herself in Japan?
Check out the inspiration book, THE AMERICAN WAY OF HOUSEKEEPING.
Here I discuss my novel’s ending: