THE GOOD DAUGHTERS

Joyce Maynard

They were born on the same day, in the same small New Hampshire hospital, into families that could hardly have been less alike.

Ruth Plank is an artist and a romantic with a rich, passionate, imaginative life. The last of five girls born to a gentle, caring farmer and his stolid wife, she yearns to soar beyond the confines of the land that has been her family’s birthright for generations.

Dana Dickerson is a scientist and realist whose faith is firmly planted in the natural world. Raised by a pair of capricious drifters who waste their lives on failed dreams,

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They were born on the same day, in the same small New Hampshire hospital, into families that could hardly have been less alike.

Ruth Plank is an artist and a romantic with a rich, passionate, imaginative life. The last of five girls born to a gentle, caring farmer and his stolid wife, she yearns to soar beyond the confines of the land that has been her family’s birthright for generations.

Dana Dickerson is a scientist and realist whose faith is firmly planted in the natural world. Raised by a pair of capricious drifters who waste their lives on failed dreams, she longs for stability and rootedness.

Different in nearly every way, Ruth and Dana share a need to make sense of who they are and to find their places in a world in which neither has ever truly felt she belonged. They also share a love for Dana’s wild and beautiful older brother, Ray, who will leave an indelible mark on both their hearts.

Told in the alternating voices of Ruth and Dana, The Good Daughters follows these “birthday sisters” as they make their way from the 1950s to the present. Master storyteller Joyce Maynard chronicles the unlikely ways the two women’s lives parallel and intersect—from childhood and adolescence to first loves, first sex, marriage, and parenthood; from the deaths of parents to divorce, the loss of home, and the loss of a beloved partner—until past secrets and forgotten memories unexpectedly come to light, forcing them to reevaluate themselves and each other.

Moving from rural New Hampshire to a remote island in British Columbia to the ’70s Boston art-school scene, The Good Daughters is an unforgettable story about the ties of home and family, the devastating force of love, the healing power of forgiveness, and the desire to know who we are.

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  • Harper Perennial
  • Paperback
  • August 2011
  • 304 Pages
  • 9780061994326

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About Joyce Maynard

Joyce Maynard first came to national attention with the publication of her New York Times cover story “An Eighteen-Year-Old Looks Back on Life” in 1973, when she was a freshman at Yale. Since then, she has been a reporter and columnist for The New York Times, a syndicated newspaper columnist whose “Domestic Affairs” column appeared in more than fifty papers nationwide, a regular contributor to NPR. Her writing has also been published in national magazines, including O, The Oprah Magazine; Newsweek; The New York Times Magazine; Forbes; Salon; San Francisco Magazine, USA Weekly; and many more. She has appeared on Good Morning America, The Today Show, CNN, Hardball with Chris Matthews, Charlie Rose, and on Fresh Air. Essays of hers appear in numerous collections. She has been a fellow at Yaddo, UCross, and The MacDowell Colony, where she wrote her most recently published novel, Labor Day.

The author of nine books of fiction and nonfiction, including the novel To Die For (in which she also plays the role of Nicole Kidman’s attorney) and the bestselling memoir, At Home in the World, Maynard makes her home in Mill Valley, California. Her novel, The Usual Rules—a story about surviving loss—has been a favorite of book club audiences of all ages, and was chosen by the American Library Association as one of the ten best books for young readers for 2003.

Joyce Maynard also runs the Lake Atitlan Writing Workshop in Guatemala, founded in 2002.

Praise

“A story of choices and events so intimate I felt I was part of it. The novel is wrenching, the emotions radiant, and it will leave readers transformed”—Luanne Rice, author of The Deep Blue Sea for Beginners

“Joyce Maynard has outdone herself in this beautifully written story you’ll find hard to put down and impossible to forget.”—Elizabeth Berg, author of The Last Time I Saw You

Discussion Questions

The novel opens with a terrible storm. How does this beginning portend the events of the ensuing story?

Discuss the “birthday sisters” Dana and Ruth. What is each like? What kind of households are they raised in? Each represents an opposing side of nature: one is scientific and practical, the other an artist and dreamer. How do their opposite personalities affect who they are and how they make their way in the world?

What are your impressions of Edwin Plank, Connie Plank, and Valerie Dickerson? If this story were set today, would the outcome be the same? Why?

Both girls share a special relationship with Edwin Plank. In what ways are they similar in the eyes of this kind man one girl calls father and the other calls friend? What life lessons did they learn from him?

Think about Valerie Dickerson and Connie Plank. How did their personalities affect their views on family and childrearing? Analyze their relationships with their daughters. What did each girl share with these very different women?

Why didn’t the adults correct the mistake that changed everyone’s lives? Why didn’t they tell the girls? How might events have been different if the girls had known what had happened? How did the girls’ unawareness of the truth affect how they saw each other through childhood and beyond? Were the girls cheated in any way?

What made Dana’s brother, Ray, so attractive to Ruth? Was not telling Ruth the truth sooner cruel?

What role did the Planks’ farm play in the story? How are Dana and Ruth tied to the land when they are children? Does this change once they become adults?

When Ruth is living in Boston, Edwin comes to visit and they talk about her art and the nude models she draws. He says, “Back in my day, they made such a big deal about all of that, it made you a little crazy. If people could have talked about it and not acted like the whole thing was so sinful, maybe we wouldn’t have gotten into so much trouble.” What is Edwin referring to? Do you think he’s correct?

After her breakup with Ray, Ruth forgave her father but not her mother. Why? What made her eventually forgive Connie?

Why didn’t Ruth call Dana immediately when she discovered the truth about the past? Why didn’t Dana tell Ruth after she’d figured it out? How did the truth set them free to be themselves?

What is the significance of the title The Good Daughters? How does this gardening term perfectly capture the story and its characters?