This reading group guide for A QUIET LIFE 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. Introduction
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Chuck Ayers can’t decide if he should make the annual trip to Hilton Head without his late wife, Cat. Ella Burke works two jobs to make ends meet and fill the hours while she waits for news about her missing daughter. Kirsten Bonato put her aspirations for veterinary school aside after her father’s sudden death and finds comfort working at an animal shelter.
These three individuals’ stories intersect in surprising and heart-warming ways as each person discovers how to move forward with their lives. A Quiet Life
is a tender, emotionally powerful novel that explores how grief can push us toward unexpected new experiences and connections. Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. While replaying through his long relationship with his late wife, Cat, Chuck feels “as if he’s in a supermarket of guilt, and his cart’s overflowing” (chapter one). Several other characters also express similar remorse over lost loved ones. How does guilt function throughout the novel?
2. In her daughter Riley’s absence, Ella can’t help picturing her everywhere she goes. “She imagines going to the market and making a French picnic for Riley” (chapter two). What is it about someone’s absence that makes their presence loom larger? Who else experiences this in the book?
3. Natasha and Cat’s friendship made Chuck nervous and even jealous at times. What was it about their connection that sparked his reaction? Compare this to Grayson’s lack of jealousy when Kirsten opens up to him. Discuss why these characters react so differently in their respective situations.
4. Kirsten essentially put her life on hold after her father’s sudden death and “feels like she’s waiting for a sign” to restart it (chapter four). How often do people rely on “signs” to make life decisions? Why might that be? Do you find yourself waiting for signals in your own life?
5. Both Kirsten and Ella had traumatic experiences losing family members, and Chuck experienced trauma as a soldier in Vietnam. How does trauma display itself throughout the novel?
6. Kirsten has chemistry with both David and Grayson. She can even imagine what a future would look like with each of them. What did you make of this love triangle? Were you rooting for one outcome over another?
7. Ella’s husband betrays her trust. Chuck feared that Natasha might swindle him and Cat if they let her stay with them. How do people respond to betrayal throughout the novel?
8. A Quiet Life
is about both small and huge acts of kindness. When was the last act of kindness you performed, witnessed, or experienced?
9. David’s struggle with his ex-wife over their kids mirrors Ella’s custody tensions with her husband, Kyle. What do we gain as readers by juxtaposing these dynamics?
10. Kirsten and David open up to each other about their personal experiences with loss, which is a cathartic conversation for both of them. How can sharing feelings of grief improve one’s mental health and relationships?
11. While Kirsten and Chuck are both dealing with permanent losses, Ella’s missing daughter has the potential to come back into her life. What effect does this comparison have on the overall story that’s being told?
12. Kirsten and Chuck both try to gain closure by searching out emblems of the past, but neither situation goes exactly as expected. Talk about closure and why the characters feel the need for it.
13. Discuss the shift from Kirsten’s thought that “loss is everywhere” in chapter twenty-eight to “love everywhere. . . . And life has this possibility of deeper love, always around the corner” in chapter thirty-three. How does the novel build to this uplifting conclusion? How might we adopt this into our own lives? Enhance Your Book Club
1. Visit your local animal shelter! If you’re interested, ask if it’s possible to volunteer.
2. Purchase a sketchbook and carry it with you, sketching when inspiration strikes, like Cat.
3. Read Ethan Joella’s first novel, A Little Hope
, and discuss the ongoing themes and also how the two books differ.