GARDENIAS

Faith Sullivan

In a story about love, independence, and the power of women, renowned author Faith Sullivan captures World War II on the home front. It is 1942, only a month after the United States has joined the war, and everything is in upheaval—including the Erhardt family. Arlene has left her husband to pursue a new life in California, taking her sister, Betty, and nine-year-old Lark with her.

Betty and Arlene quickly find jobs in the booming San Diego wartime industry, and a small house to rent in a housing project. In a community full of people with similarly uprooted lives,

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In a story about love, independence, and the power of women, renowned author Faith Sullivan captures World War II on the home front. It is 1942, only a month after the United States has joined the war, and everything is in upheaval—including the Erhardt family. Arlene has left her husband to pursue a new life in California, taking her sister, Betty, and nine-year-old Lark with her.

Betty and Arlene quickly find jobs in the booming San Diego wartime industry, and a small house to rent in a housing project. In a community full of people with similarly uprooted lives, Lark grows into adolescence, watching as her mother struggles with a secret love and as Aunt Betty sends her own estranged husband off to war. Left to fend for herself while her mother and aunt work, Lark dutifully tends to a scraggly gardenia bush every day. When it blooms, she hopes, so too will the lives of those around her.

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  • Milkweed Editions
  • Paperback
  • 2006
  • 392 Pages
  • 9781571310521

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$16.95

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About Faith Sullivan

Faith Sullivan is the author of three novels set in the fictional town of Harvester, Minnesota —The Cape Anne (Penguin), The Empress of One (Milkweed Editions), and What a Woman Must Do (Milkweed Editions). A frequent speaker to book groups, Sullivan has lived in Los Angeles and New York, and currently lives with her husband in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Praise

“Sullivan’s beautifully transparent prose style instantly draws readers into the young girl’s tale, so much so that many will forget they’re holding a book in their hands.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“When you meet Lark, scorned when she and her Rosie-the-Riveter inspired mom and aunt arrive in California from Minnesota, all previous World War II fictional characters will move aside. Faith Sullivan’s novel is a moving, multilayered coming-of-age story.”
—BookSense, Cheryl McKeon, Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park, Washington

Discussion Questions

The book is set in a project of specially built neighborhoods to house war factory workers, in 1942, San Diego. How was this location and time period important to the story? Did the author convey the era well?

How did World War II affect Arlene and Betty’s careers?

What were Lark’s escapes from her fears of the gang of boys?
– What was Shirley’s escape? Why did she abandon it?
– What are your refuges and escapes?

Should Lark have told her mother and aunt about the attack? What do you think they might have done? If such a thing had happened to you at that age, would you have told and who would you have told?

The stories of Lark’s neighbors—Miss Elridge, her brother Beau, and Fanny and Jack Dugan—are an important part of the book. How does Lark affect their lives? How do they affect her life?

Why doesn’t Lark share her writing with her mother and aunt? Who does she share it with?

How does meeting Sidney Dangerson affect Stanley?

There are many symbols in the story—
– What do you think the gardenia bush symbolizes?
– The movie star that Lark sees on the train, Alicia Armand (Arkovsky), might be a fake—not really a dancer who escaped the Nazis. What does she symbolize?
– What does the painting symbolize for Lark?
– What does Mr. Trustworthy symbolize?

Why does Arlene fall apart? How does Aunt Betty become the strong one in the relationship?

Why does Lark suddenly have the strength to confront and fight the nasty gang of boys? Why does the power shift to her?

Lark has the money to help Shirley escape from her family, though her refuge does not seem certain. How else could Lark have handled the situation?

Do you think that Arlene and Betty did a good job of parenting Lark, given the circumstances and the era? What would you have done differently?