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Beach House for Rent

Reading Group Guide

    This reading group guide for Beach House for Rent includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


    Two women of different generations are bound together one summer by a very special beach house.

    Since returning to Isle of Palms ten years ago, Cara Rutledge, 50, has settled into a quiet, slower-paced life with Brett, her husband. She finds comfort living close to the beloved home she inherited from her mother—the same home she rents out for the summer to 26-year-old Heather Wyatt.

    Heather is an artist who travels to Isle of Palms to paint shorebirds commissioned by the US Postal Service. Since her mother’s death years earlier, Heather’s anxiety has kept her indoors at her father’s home. But living alone on the island, going out to the beach every day in search of shore birds, feeling the ocean waves at her feet, the sun on her face—and meeting a gentle young man working on the beach house—chip away at her fears and open her up to new possibilities.

    As the summer progresses, these two women’s paths suddenly collide, presenting challenges and opportunities that will change not only the course of their summer, but the rest of their lives.

    Topics & Questions for Discussion

    1. In the first two chapters, we learn of Cara’s young adulthood—particularly, of her troubled past with her family and her late-in-life reconciliation with her mother. Can you relate to Cara’s experiences? Is it ever too late to reconcile with someone after years of absence?

    2. Heather’s anxiety makes her resistant to change. How do you react to changes that occur in your life? Do you understand Heather’s trepidation to move to Isle of Palms for the summer? Is her father’s insistence that Heather move out an example of tough love?

    3. Turning fifty is a milestone that stirs up lots of emotions for Cara. She’s searching for the passion that she feels is missing in her life—and which she sees in Heather. After years of putting aside her dreams, she doubts whether she can find it again. Discuss how her infertility struggles and working for Brett’s business prevented her from exploring her own career interests. Is Cara experiencing a midlife crisis? Has a milestone birthday or event ever made you reassess your plans? How important is it to continue pursuing your passions amidst the challenges of our daily lives?

    4. Heather is very attached to her canaries. She says her mother’s pet canary “saved her” after her mother passed (p. 71). Discuss how animals can offer stability and love to their owners in times of need Do you have any pets that help you through changes in your life?

    5. Heather claims she felt the presence of Cara’s mother, Olivia Rutledge, on her first night at the beach house. Do you believe this could happen? What do you make of Cara’s reaction? Is she jealous, as Brett suggested, or does her response run deeper?

    6. Cara’s connection to her mother is closely tied to her involvement with sea turtles. Discuss the impact of the pivotal scene on the beach when Cara witnesses the mother sea turtle come ashore.

    7. “Her fear kept her as caged as her canaries. The glass windows were no different than their metal bars” (p. 128). Describe Heather’s struggles with anxiety. How does it affect her? What steps does she take to overcome her fears? Do you suffer from anxiety or know someone who does? How do you, or they, handle it?

    8. Mary Alice Monroe often writes about the disconnect many people feel with nature. Heather is cut off from nature by her anxiety. Is this fear of going outdoors to experience nature or the wild common today? Discuss the metaphor of Heather’s mental cage and whether you think many people are also trapped indoors or are shut-ins.

    9. Primrose Cottage (the beach house) is beloved by both women, but for different reasons. What does the house symbolize to each of them? Do you have a place that represents something special to you, too? How does the beach house setting influence the course of events in the novel?

    10. Trauma and grief are major themes in this novel. Consider Cara’s and Heather’s experiences with death. How did they each come to terms with their loss? Discuss the methods they use to help each other. Do they ever come to a place of healing?

    11. Navigating a romantic relationship is anxious territory for Heather. How does her anxiety interfere with developing any relationship? Discuss how common the negative voices in our heads are when we feel vulnerable or faced with confrontation. Do you have a worry stone?

    12. The novel is rich with descriptions of nature and its healing powers. Heather quickly becomes enchanted by the island’s beauty after settling into her new beach rental. “Suddenly the path opened up, and she stood before the vast vista of sea and sky as dawn broke around her. Great shafts of rosy light spread across the gray sky. The beach below, washed clean by the tide, shimmered in the pearly tints of the sunrise” (p. 134). How is nature a source of strength for Heather, or to other characters in the novel? Is there a particular scene or passage that stood out for you? Does nature play a role in your life?

    13. Discuss the structure of the novel. Cara’s and Heather’s stories approached the themes of grief, anxiety, and passion from different viewpoints, allowing varying perspectives of age and experience. What parts of their past helped you better understand their present selves? Who did you relate to more?

    14. Cara believes that when she moved back to Isle of Palms ten years ago to care for her mother “she could see that thinking of another person made her open up and heal herself” (p. 210). Acknowledging this, how can Cara heal herself once more? Is moving back to the beach house the best way to mend her grief? Do you think her plan is inconsiderate to Heather? What would you do if you were Cara? What do you make of the two women’s resolution?

    15. Beach House for Rent is set against the backdrop of shorebirds. Monroe introduces readers to different species and the threats. When you go to your favorite beach, how will this novel influence your appreciation as well as your actions? Discuss the birds in your area. How many species can you name? How can you help protect them?

    Enhance Your Book Club

    1. Incorporate art into your next book club meeting! If you live near an ocean or park, go with your book club members to paint or draw some of nature’s treasures. You could also venture to a Paint and Sip class for a more organized (and instructional) group activity.

    2. Visit Isle of Palms! The wonder and peaceful beauty of this southern beach destination comes to life through the pages of Beach House for Rent. Plan a summer vacation with your family or friends to explore the island’s exquisite beaches and charming town.

    3. Read The Summer Girls, the first book in Mary Alice Monroe’s Lowcountry Summer series, for your next book club meeting. And to find more books by Mary Alice Monroe, visit

    4. Beach House for Rent can be read alone, but it is also the fourth book in the Beach House series. To go back and read more of the Rutledge family of Charleston read Mary Alice Monroe’s The Beach House, Beach House Memories, and Swimming Lessons.

    5. Beach House for Rent offers a glimpse into the life of someone struggling with social anxiety. What have you learned about social anxiety from reading the novel? Discuss with your book club. To learn more about anxiety, visit the Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s website at

More Books From This Author

Beach House Reunion
Beach House Memories
A Lowcountry Christmas
A Lowcountry Wedding

About the Author

Mary Alice Monroe
Mic Smith Photography

Mary Alice Monroe

Mary Alice Monroe is the New York Times bestselling author of two dozen novels, including The Summer Girls, The Summer WindThe Summer’s End, A Lowcountry Wedding, A Lowcountry Christmas, Last Light Over CarolinaTime Is a RiverSweetgrassSkyward, The Four Seasons, The Book Club, The Beach House, Beach House Memories, Swimming Lessons, Beach House for Rent, and Beach House Reunion. Her books have received numerous awards, including the 2008 South Carolina Center for the Book Award for Writing, the 2014 South Carolina Award for Literary Excellence, the 2015 SW Florida Author of Distinction Award, the RT Lifetime Achievement Award, and the International Book Award for Green Fiction. In 2018 she was inducted into the South Carolina Literary Hall of Fame.  Her novel, The Beach House was made into a Hallmark Hall of Fame film. An active conservationist, she lives in the lowcountry of South Carolina. Visit her at and at