THE SISTER SEASON

By Jennifer Scott
New American LibraryNovember 2013
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Trade Paperback368 pages, $15.00, ISBN: 9780451418814
Subject: Family / Relationships / Personal Challenges

  1. Within this book a family comes together for two events—to bury a father and husband and to celebrate the holidays. Why do you suppose the author wanted to mingle these two events? What is gained, and lost, with this decision? Have you yourself had experiences where grief and joy were commingled?
  2. The family’s reactions to both of these events are somewhat unexpected. Their feelings about gathering for the holidays seem ambivalent at best; it’s certainly not the typical joy-filled big family gathering. Likewise, their experience of Robert’s death is not primarily one of grief. As we learn more about the family’s history, does this make sense? Have you yourself experienced events—perhaps holidays—where your own feelings didn’t match what you were “supposed” to be feeling?
  3. There are three sisters in this book, and in some ways their personalities seem determined by their birth order. Julia, the oldest, is a successful professor; Maya, the middle sister, struggles to define herself; and Claire, the youngest, is the rebellious free spirit. In your own life, where do you fall in birth order among your siblings and how do you think this shaped your personality—if at all? In what ways do the sisters, and you, buck the trend?
  4. Elise has a complicated relationship with her daughters. When Claire arrives home Elise imagines hopping off the steps, wrapping her arms around her daughter and maybe even crying. But instead, “for reasons even she couldn’t understand, the idea of rushing into her daughter’s arms never translated into the actual motion of doing so.” Yet by the end of the book, when Claire arrives one year later, Elise “held her arms out and folded her daughter into them . . . It still felt strange for her to make these gestures, but with big change comes discomfort.” Do you agree with Elise? Does change bring discomfort? Have you shared her experience of doing one thing in your mind but another in reality? And what does her different reaction say about the ways her relationship with Claire has changed? The ways Elise has changed?
  5. Throughout much of the book Elise carries what she feels is a terrible secret. When she reveals this secret, do you have the same reaction as her daughters? Do you fault her? Do you understand her? How does her handling of the gold locket reflect her feelings and play into her own character growth?
  6. Each of the sisters is hiding something that she eventually shares with the others. What are these secrets and what does the sharing of them do for each sister? Why has this sharing taken so long? And what do you think this says about the nature of sisterhood—its fractures, its endurance?
  7. You might say Claire makes one decision about her relationship with Robert (to end it), but the sisters make a different decision about their relationships with one another. How do we decide when to end relationships versus when to mend them?
  8. Two of the women in this book are children, but they also have children of their own. How have Maya’s and Julia’s relationships with their parents influenced them as parents themselves?
  9. Eli stands as the most articulate of the third generation of the family in this book. Would you say he’s a sympathetic character? In what ways is he central to the plot?
  10. What role does the epilogue play in this story? One year later, is the family where you thought it would be? Are there unanswered questions—and if so, what do you imagine happens next?
  11. Although The Sister Season deals with a family coming together for the holidays, the working title of this book was Solstice and the author begins the book with an epigram that is a verse from Susan Cooper’s lovely poem “The Shortest Day.” Why is this? What new context does this bring to the story?

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