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The Life You Longed For

Reading Group Guide

    The Life You Longed For By Maribeth Fischer
    "...she began wondering about her own decisions, and about the shadow life of choices not made that trailed behind the life she lived now."
    Grace, an epidemiologist, wife, and mother of three, spends most of her time fighting for the life of her youngest son, Jack, who suffers from mitochondrial disease -- a chronic, genetic disorder that occurs when the mitochondria of the cell fails to produce enough energy for cell or organ function. Adored by family and friends for her courage and commitment, Grace, however, is not a saint. She is having an affair with a man she abandoned twenty years ago, a man who offers her a glimpse into the life she didn't choose.
    Just when Jack needs his mother the most, a new enemy confronts the family. Grace is accused of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, a form of child abuse in which the mother makes her own child sick in order to gain attention. Afraid she is the victim of a modern-day witch-hunt, Grace arms herself with knowledge and wages war against the two medical mysteries -- all the while trying to shield a secret that could destroy her family.
    "A strong new voice in women's fiction" (Publishers Weekly), Maribeth Fischer has crafted both a suspenseful medical drama and a thoughtful piece on the true meaning of survival.
    Discussion Questions
    1. Prior to reading this novel, were you aware of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy? If so, how has your opinion changed, if at all?
    2. "But you hold on to what you have to, she knew, thinking of how certain desert cacti can hoard a single drop of rainwater for decades...And people with their secrets? They were no different, she believed, preserving them at enormous costs because sometimes, like water or instinct, their secrets were all that allowed them to survive" (p. 4). How does Grace's secret allow her to survive?
    3. "The farther two quarks move away from each other, the more fiercely they're pulled back together." (p.15). Does this statement hold true for all of Grace's relationships or just her relationship with Noah?
    4. This book is broken up into sections titled "Desire," "Belief," "Betrayal," "Fear," "Grief," and "What Survives." What meaning did you find in the introductions to each section?
    5. "...No one who knew her would ever guess, not just where she had been, but who. Someone else" (p. 18). How is Grace different with Noah than she is with her family and friends?
    6. Do you think Grace is a good mother? Why or why not?
    7. "In most stories about the moon, someone was always trying to catch it, to pull it back down to Earth: the man who sees it reflected in the water and tries to pick it up, only to have it slip from his grasp just when he thought he'd had it." (p. 94). What does the moon symbolize in The Life You Longed For?
    8. When accusations are made against her, Grace compares them to a modern-day witch-hunt. Do you think this is a fair comparison?
    9. "To find the right answer, one must ask the right question" (p. 227). What question do you think Grace needs to ask herself?
    10. "How was it that she had never understood until now how much the ocean was a landscape of loss: constantly breaking waves, emptied shells, land carried out to sea a little bit each year" (p. 270). What role does nature play in this story?
    11. Discuss the book's central theme -- survival -- and how it applies to each of the main characters. Which character is best equipped to deal with his or her own struggles?
    12. Are you satisfied with the outcome of the love triangle in this novel? Why or why not?
    Enhance Your Book Club:
    1. Watch the film version of The Crucible at your book club meeting and discuss the parallels to The Life You Longed For.
    2. Ask each of your book club members to bring a children's book to donate to your local children's hospital (For a children's hospital near you, go to collect funds and donate them to United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation (8085 Saltsburg Road, Suite 201, Pittsburgh, PA 15239 USA;
    3. Take your book club to a local Audubon center. (For locations, go to

About the Author

Maribeth Fischer
Photo Credit:

Maribeth Fischer

Maribeth Fischer has a M.F.A. in creative writing from Virginia Commonwealth University and a B.A. from Iowa State University. A former creative writing instructor, Fischer has been awarded the Pushcart Prize, and her first novel, The Language of Good-bye, received the Virginia Commonwealth University Award for a First Novel. She also acts as the executive director of Writers at the Beach, a biannual writers' conference, and as the president of the Rehoboth Beach Writers' Guild. Fischer lives in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.