The Why of Things

A Novel

The Why of Things

“A fast-paced, entertaining summer read” (People), The Why of Things is a “keenly observed” and “richly drawn” (The New York Times) novel about a family fighting towards hope in the wake of a terrible tragedy.

Since the loss of her seventeen-year-old daughter less than a year ago, Joan Jacobs has struggled to keep her tight-knit family from coming apart. But Joan and Anders, her husband, are unable to snap back into the familiarity and warmth they so desperately need, both for themselves and for their surviving daughters, Eve and Eloise. The family flees to their summer home in search of peace and renewal, only to encounter an eerily similar tragedy when a pickup truck drives into the quarry in their backyard killing a young local named James Favazza.

As the Jacobs family learns more about the inexplicable events that preceded that fateful evening, each of them becomes increasingly tangled in the emotional threads of James’s story: fifteen-year-old Eve is determined to solve, on her own, the mystery of his death; Anders finds himself facing his own deepest fears; and seven-year-old Eloise unwittingly adopts James’s orphaned dog. For her part, Joan becomes increasingly fixated on James’s mother, a stranger whose sudden loss so closely mirrors her own.

With an urgent, beautiful intimacy that her fans have come to expect from this “bitingly intelligent writer” (The New York Times), Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop delivers here a powerful, buoyant novel that explores the complexities of family relationships and the small triumphs that can bring unexpected healing. The Why of Things is a wise, empathetic, and exquisitely heartfelt story about the strength of family bonds. It is an unforgettable and searing tour de force.
  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 320 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451695847 | 
  • June 2013
List Price $10.99 (price may vary by retailer)


Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Why of Things includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop. 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.


Since her seventeen-year-old daughter’s suicide less than a year ago, Joan Jacobs has been working to keep her once tight-knit family from coming apart. Now, arriving one June evening at their summer home in Massachusetts, she and her husband, Anders, and their two younger daughters stumble across another tragedy: a pickup truck has, inexplicably, driven straight into a quarry in their backyard. Within hours, divers drag up body of a young local man, James Favazza. As the Jacobs family learns more about the events that led up to that fateful evening, each member becomes increasingly tangled in the emotional threads of James’ life and death: fifteen-year-old Eve grows obsessed with proving that James’ death wasn’t an accident, though the police refuse to consider this; Anders finds himself forced to face his own deepest fears; and little Eloise unwittingly adopts James’ orphaned dog, all while Joan herself becomes increasingly fixated on James’ mother, a str see more

About the Author

Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop
Fernanda Wood Winthrop

Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop

Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop was born and raised in New York City. She earned her BA from Harvard University and her MFA in fiction from the UC Irvine, where she was the recipient of the Schaeffer Writing Fellowship. She is the author of the novels The Why of Things, Fireworks, and December. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, daughter, and St. Bernard.