Reading Group Guide
Group Reading Guide
by Lynn Marie Smith
Growing up in a small rural town in Pennsylvania, Lynn Smith was one of the popular kids, where she excelled in the performing arts and always dreamed of moving to New York City to pursue a career in acting. At 19, her dream came true when she enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Lynn was exposed to new people, new ideas, and a completely new way of life -- one involving drugs. She tried pot, acid, and cocaine, but it was ecstasy that changed her life forever. She spent her weekends popping pills and dancing at clubs, working only to support her habit.
In five months, Lynn went from living somewhat responsibly to not caring about a thing and ignoring symptoms such as throbbing headaches and paranoia, thinking they were normal. Until the night she began to hallucinate uncontrollably. Somehow Lynn managed to call her mother, who returned her to her hometown of Danville. Lynn spent the next fourteen days in a psychiatric ward in a state of extreme confusion. While in the hospital, her doctor performed a neuro-spec scan of her brain, showing the damage Lynn had inflicted upon herself through repeated ecstasy abuse. Since that day, Lynn has dedicated herself to educating others about the perils of drug abuse. She went public with her story in hopes of preventing others from making the same mistakes. Lynn has been given something not everyone gets -- a second chance.
- Lynn's relationships in New York significantly and permanently alter her life. From Lucy, Manny, and Brian, to Mason, each person she meets in the city seems to lead her deeper into drugs and darkness. Yet Lynn takes full responsibility for her choices. How do you feel about Lynn's relationships and their influence on her? How do you think Lynn's mother feels? Does your attitude change if you are a parent? Should it?
- Lynn's relationship with her father is central to her story, and her drug use and his alcoholism are inextricably linked. Do you think that Lynn's experiences with ecstasy made her more or less sympathetic to her father's drinking? Why do you think she confronted him the way that she did during her visiting hours: "Dad, you're an alcoholic." (p.144) Did it seem like she was trying to help him, hurt him, or both?
- Throughout the book, Lynn desperately seeks intimacy with new groups of people. Think about all of the families of circumstance, of shared experience, of lifestyle that Lynn creates. What is it that bonds each of them? Do you think that it was Lynn's unhappy family life that created this need in her, or something else?
- Lynn reveals countless moments that unveil the true horror of life addicted to drugs, some as simple as her asking: "Did I eat today? I forgot what hungry felt like." (p. 123) Were there other moments like this in the story? Discuss what stood out for you most in Lynn's story.
- The character of Sam is quite mysterious. Lynn sees him as her guardian angel: "I believed and still believe he was sent for me." (p.139) Why do you think she responded to him in this way? What do you believe about his role in her recovery?
- When Lynn gets out of the hospital, she goes homes and "walk[s] around the living room, relishing [her] first taste of freedom." (p.167) At the start of her journey, Danville and this house were her jail and now she finds freedom within the same walls. Think about returning home after such a life-altering experience. What do you imagine you would feel? Lynn eventually begins to feel confined again. Why?
- Lynn writes her story with a strong sense of immediacy. Yet there are instances where she comments on her actions with the judgment of retrospect. For example: "In my mind this was a step up, but in reality this move [to Brooklyn] was the final nail in my coffin." (p.101) Review the moments in the story when she looks back like this. Why do you think she picked them? Do you believe that she had any sense of the truth of her situation at the time?
- As Lynn enters drug culture, she says: "I had crossed into a strange world, but I was right at home with it. If there was one thing I had mastered, it was adapting to my surroundings. Read the room and morph into what I needed to be to survive." (p.41) Discuss how this ability, and perhaps other aspects of Lynn's personality, impacted her addiction.
- As Lynn moves further away from her dream and initial plan for moving to the city she comments: "I think I was afraid of taking a risk, afraid of participating, afraid of rejection, ruled by fear -- I knew how to struggle, how to complain, how to wallow -- but what was it like to be truly happy, truly love myself and my life?" (p.67) Lynn's downward spiral seems so easy. Do you think it is harder to do something positive with your life?
- Lynn moved to the city to follow her dream and more deeply connect with herself. Instead, she completely lost hold of who she was. Trace the pitfalls. How did city life make her spiral easier? Do you think she would have found herself in the same place if she had moved somewhere else? If she had stayed in Danville?
- Lynn said, "Everything that surrounded me was a reflection of myself, a mirror image, and everything matched up." (p.93) This is a classic description of clique culture. Discuss the phenomenon. In the book, this ability to judge your actions only against others making the same choices impacts Lynn negatively, but that doesn't have to be the case. How have you seen this in your own life?
- Starting on pages 9, 108, and 234 Lynn shares poetry with you. Look at each of these separately from the story and discuss their use. Why do you believe Lynn included them? How is poetry's impact different from prose?
- Lynn's relationship with her mother is the most significant in her life. Talk about the bond between mother and daughter. How did they see each other? Do you believe that each truly understood the other? How did each help the other? Were there moments when they could have helped and didn't?
Enhance Your Book Club
- Lynn's blog http://lynnmariesmith.blogspot.com/ adds to her book. Visit the site with your reading group to see what she's involved in today, share other stories, and even view her brain scan.
- Learn more about ecstasy use and abuse on http://www.drugabuse.gov/ResearchReports/MDMA/, http://parentingteens.about.com/cs/ecstasy/l/blecstasy2.htm, and http://www.narconon.org/druginfo/ecstasy_x.html.