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This reading group guide for The Girls in the Garden 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.
When the family home of Clare and her two daughters, Grace and Pip, is burnt to the ground, an apartment on a picturesque communal garden square looks like the perfect opportunity for all of them to forge a new life. Clare befriends stay-at-home mother Adele and her charming husband, Leo, and the girls begin spending time with a clique of neighborhood children. Everyone seems very welcoming and friendly to the newcomers. That is, until a festive neighborhood party takes a turn for the violent, and preteen Pip discovers her thirteen-year-old sister Grace lying unconscious and bloody in a hidden corner of a lush rose garden. Who in this close-knit community can they really trust?
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Who did you first suspect of attacking Grace? Did your suspicions change over the course of the book? Were there clues that pointed you toward the perpetrator? What were some of the red herrings that misdirected your attention?
2. Adele has a very lenient, alternative parenting style, homeschooling and preferring to let her children make their own choices, whatever they are. She repeatedly suggests that she feels judged by others for her lifestyle. How did you feel about how she is raising her children? Were there points in the book you felt supportive or critical of her maternal choices?
3. The police suggest that Grace is “mature for her age” (page 206). Do you agree that Grace is (or is acting) more mature than her age? If so, how? How do Grace’s or Pip’s experiences compare with your own experience of being twelve and thirteen?
4. A major issue in this book is that of growing up. What growth do you see in Pip from the beginning to the end of The Girls in the Garden? Compare and contrast Pip’s development with the ways in which Grace matures.
5. Do you think Clare made the right decision in keeping Pip and Grace’s father’s release from the hospital a secret? Why or why not?
6. Adele asserts that “with parenting there’s a long game and a short game. The aim of the short game is to make your children bearable to live with. Easy to transport. Well behaved in public place . . . But the aim of the long game is to produce a good human being” (page 150). Do you agree with her belief that you can “skip” the short game? Is there a middle ground between her viewpoint and Gordon’s discipline-focused approach?
7. What draws Clare to Leo? Is her attraction to him based more on her own circumstances or something about him?
8. Why do you think Lisa Jewell wrote primarily from Pip, Clare, and Adele’s perspectives? What do these narrators have in common? What is unique about their different standpoints, and how does this affect the story?
9. Did you relate to any of the girls or parents more than the others? In what ways?
10. Do you think you would enjoy living in a home with a communal garden like the one described? What are some of the benefits and drawbacks?
11. What drives Catkin and Fern to follow Tyler’s lead? What do you think were their motivations for taking the actions they took?
12. Why does Adele ultimately look after Tyler? Are her motives purely selfless?
13. Do you think Adele does the right thing by keeping quiet after she discovers what happened to Grace? What would you have done in her position?
14. All of the girls go through both traumatic and formative experiences during the course of the book. What do you think the various girls will be like when they are grown up?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. We are given only a limited window into Tyler and Grace’s points of view on the day of Virginia Park’s annual summer party. As a group, choose an earlier scene to write in either Grace or Tyler’s voice. Share and discuss your creative pieces with your book club.
2. Pip and Grace are both significantly affected by their father’s struggle with schizophrenia. As a group, try reading another novel which depicts the impact of parental mental illness, such as Outside the Lines by Amy Hatvany.
3. Watch the film Thirteen (directed by Catherine Hardwicke). Discuss how the film portrays the turning point of becoming a teenager. What ideas from The Girls in the Garden are echoed in the film? How does the role of the parents compare between the film and The Girls?
4. Check out more of Lisa Jewell’s books, such as The Third Wife and The House We Grew Up In. To find out more about Lisa, visit www.facebook.com/LisaJewellofficial, or follow her on twitter @lisajewelluk.
Lisa Jewell was born and raised in north London, where she lives with her husband and two daughters. She is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA TODAY bestselling author of twelve novels, including The House We Grew Up In and The Third Wife. To find out more, visit Facebook.com/LisaJewellOfficial, or follow her on Twitter @LisaJewellUK.