The Water Giver

The Story of a Mother, a Son, and Their Second Chance

The Water Giver

Both a medical drama and meditation on motherhood, The Water Giver is Joan Ryan's honest account of her doubts and mistakes in raising a learning-disabled son and the story of how his near-fatal accident gave her a second chance as a parent.
  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 272 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781416576532 | 
  • September 2010
List Price $17.99
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Water Giver includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Joan Ryan. 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


Joan Ryan expected motherhood to be different. She expected to raise her child just as she’d been raised. However, her son Ryan’s severe tantrums at home and trouble learning at school make her exceedingly frustrated by her inability to help him. Then, a severe accident and unlikely recovery brings mother and son closer than they’ve ever been. In a memoir about loving your child for who they are, not for whom you imagined them to be, Joan tells the story of the frightening path life took so that she could be the mother her son needed. With loyal friends and family, and the author’s deeply honest analysis of the events and most importantly herself, The Water Giver is a testament to love, acceptance and motherhood.


1.  When Ryan calls Joan “the water giver,” she says: “I let the words wash over me. They felt like absolution” (p. 148). How is this scene a symbol of the simplicity she’d been searching for betw see more

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About the Author

Joan Ryan
Photograph c/o author

Joan Ryan

Joan Ryan is an award-winning journalist and author. She was one of the first female sports columnists in the country, and has covered every major sporting event, from the Super Bowl to the Olympics and championship fights. Her work has earned her thirteen Associated Press Sports Editors Awards, the National Headliner Award and the Women's Sports Foundation's Journalism Award by the San Francisco chapter of the National Organization for Women. Her book Little Girls in Pretty Boxes: The Making and Breaking of Elite Gymnasts and Figure Skaters was named one of the Top 100 Sports Books of All Time by Sports Illustrated (the only one to be authored by a woman), and one of the Top 50 Sports Books of All Time by the Guardian. Joan now works as a media consultant to the San Francisco Giants.