This reading group guide for Angels Burning 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 Angels Burning
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tells the story of a small town that has suffered the tragic and gruesome murder of a teenage girl. Local Police Chief Dove Carnahan has been tasked with finding the girl's murderer but must navigate through a slew of defensive and hostile relatives and friends in order to determine the truth. In the process of this investigation, dark secrets of a similar murder in the town years earlier are unearthed and the trauma from her personal life competes for Dove’s attention. Throughout the investigation, Dove learns that under everyone's tough exterior and behind all of the rumors that the locals spread, no one is who they appear to be--including those closest to her and even herself. Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Discuss the title of the book Angels Burning
. How does the title relate to Campbell Run’s hardships with the collapsed mine and its "ability to swallow up lives"? What is the physical and economic impact on the town’s inhabitants?
2. Dove calls Campbell's Run a "poisoned ghost town." However she and many others have chosen to remain near it. Discuss Dove’s motivations for remaining in the town that has caused her so much pain. Discuss how your perception of her character and motivations changed after learning about her past. Was she really "on the side of the angels when it was all over?"
3. Discuss Dove’s motivations for becoming a police officer. In what ways did she grow up to protect others from the horrific things that happened to her, Champ, and Neely as children? In what ways is she trying to cope with the murder of her mother and the cover up?
4. Lucky, the man convicted of murdering Dove's mother, has been released from prison after 35 years. How has his release affected Dove? How does she react to him finding her? What is her perception of him and the past that they share?
5. How does Lucky’s return affect Dove’s investigation of Camio’s murder? Dove observes that "One of the worst aspects of growing older is the lengthening of hindsight. As it stretches, it becomes thinner and more transparent and we see things more clearly." How does Dove feel about her actions in her mother's death at the end of the novel?
6. Discuss how your interpretation of Dove’s investigative tactics changes after learning about her violent past. Has her personal history informed how she approached this murder investigation? Why or why not.
7. Dove observes she gets "these flashes of irrational passion where [she's] willing to risk everything [she's] worked for in order to accomplish one thing [she] can't control." Where do you see instances of this in the novel? Where does she lose her objectivity when reflecting upon Camio's murder and on her personal life?
8. Discuss how your impressions of some of the following characters changed and evolved throughout the novel: Dove, Champ, Shawna, Camio, Jessy, Zane, Lucky, and Miranda. Was your initial impression of these characters based on physical presentations and rumors? Did learning more about their backgrounds and experiences increase your empathy towards them? Why or why not?
9. Discuss the relationship between Dove, Neely, and Champ. How are they complicit in each other’s lies? How do they distance themselves to avoid thinking about their past and their mother?
10. As the first female Chief of Police in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, Carnahan faces sexism at various points in her career and throughout the novel. How does she deal with being treated differently among her co-workers and with the men and women she interrogates? What assumptions do others make based on her age? As Dove notes: "I'm okay with my age but nobody else is. Especially men."
11. Dove observes, "We didn't know living nightmares don't ever go away because you can't wake up from them. The most you can hope for is to dilute them by spreading them around." How does this quote reflect the lives of various characters in the novel?
12. Consider the parenting styles portrayed in Angels Burning
. During the course of the novel, parents are portrayed abandoning their children, being disinterested in their well being, putting them in harm's way, or defending and protecting them. Reflect on how were these characters treated as children and think about how that may have informed their parenting style. Dove observes: "I also know what it's like to have a mother who doesn't care about you. This isn't always the same thing as having one who doesn't love you. Love is a highly subjective concept; everyone has different standards for what qualifies." How this is reflected in the various relationships portrayed in the novel. Enhance Your Book Club
1. Read Tawni O’Dell’s previous novel One of Us
with your book club. Discuss how these two novels relate to each other. Both are set in mining towns. Discuss the significance of setting and locale in O’Dell’s work.
2. Tawni O’Dell wrote an essay called “The Oprah Effect” for OfftheShelf.com detailing the experience of her book Back Roads
being chosen as an Oprah Book-of-the-Month Club Main Selection. Read the essay here and discuss her experience: http://offtheshelf.com/2014/09/the-oprah-effect-tawni-odell-back-roads/.
3. Visit www.TawniODell.com to learn more about the author, her other books, and read other essays she has written.