In an exciting historical whodunit, a young black man is murdered and even though suspects abound, no one is trying too hard to find his killer.
The novel begins as “The Great War” is coming to an end. As Robert Parker’s body is lowered into the grave, Herman Camm introduces himself to the mourning family. He is a beady-eyed, small-framed, well-dressed man with a mysterious stare—and he is about to drastically change the lives of three women: Mae Lou Parker; her daughter, Carrie; and Pearl Brown.
On Christmas Eve in Jefferson County, Virginia, trouble arrives when Carrie reveals a disturbing secret that will haunt and change their lives forever. Mae Lou is fed up with Herman spending time with other women and she goes to confront him. Everybody wants a part of him, including Willie; however, the tables are slightly turned when Willie ends up with a gun pointing directly at him.
All of the stories converge when Herman is found dead from a shotgun wound. There are many people Herman has offended. And all three women are suspects in his murder. An investigation is launched. But no one really cares, including the police. Blackberry Days of Summer is a brilliantly crafted story of family secrets, complexity and the courage of forgiveness.
This reading group guide forBlackberry Days of Summer includes discussion questions 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.
Questions & Topics for Discussion
1. Blackberry Days of Summer is the title of the book. What did the title suggest to you before reading it? It holds a great deal of meaning to Carrie in the book, so what did you take away concerning the title after reading the book?
2. Were you surprised to learn about Carrie’s family background? How did it help you understand her story?
3. What effect does family have on the characters in the novel? How did Mae Lou, and Pearl share similar dreams? How were their dreams fulfilled? Why is the southern setting ideal for the formation of dreams?
4. What made Mr. Camm so appealing to the ladies? How did someone with his demeanor have such a mesmerizing attraction for Mae Lou and Pearl?
5. What kind of conflicts do you think Carrie struggled with after finding her extended family? How does that affect her relationship with Mae Lou?
6. There are many strong men in the novel, Robert, Carl, Simon, Willie and John. Each of them longed for a certain type of freedom of identity, so how do they obtain it?
7. World War I, is a time of The Great War, so how did the black man fit into this war and how did that experience affect him once he returned to the United States?
8. Pearl is a woman with a lot of experience with men. She has everything, the looks, profession and a man who adores her, yet something is missing. What is she really yearning for?
9. Why is Washington DC so important for that time period? Why are federal jobs so hard to find for the Black Dough Boys?
10. Mrs. Ferguson is a typical southern belle, however for a minute she appears to be sympathetic and caring? Why do you think the author included that in the novel? Mrs. Gaines on the other hand is in need, and color is not really an issue. Why is she different?
11. Were you surprised when Simon left Carrie? Did you think they would get back together? Were you rooting for Carrie?
12. When Pearl leaves Willie, did you think she would take him back?
13. Why do you think Mae Lou didn’t believe her own daughter? Why did she ask her to leave? Were you surprised by her actions?
14. Why is Ginny such a strong character? What is it about her that is so appealing to Carrie?
15. The church is the gathering place for the country folks, yet when Topsie is insulted, no one could give her any help. Why do you think everyone was so judgmental? Why would she be considered edgy in the 21st century?
16. When an investigation is sparked by the murder, why is it that no one really cares?
17. Why Ginny is not considered a suspect in the investigation?
18. All of the main characters have histories that haunt them, how does the past become influential in the outcome of their futures?
19. How does Blackberry Days of Summer open the door to a world so mundane, yet so complicated? How do the lives of three women collide into a whirlwind of emotions? How quickly does the love turn into pain?
20. What do Simon represent in the story? How do Mae Lou and Carrie finally come together?
21. Who is the real hero in the story? Do you feel it is Pearl, Carrie, Mae Lou? Or is it Ginny?
22. Through a keen use of dialogue the reader is able to get into the characters heads, so what concerns does the author leave you with at the conclusion of the novel?
Ruth P. Watson is the author of Blackberry Days of Summer, An Elderberry Fall, and Cranberry Winter. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and son. She divides her time between being a business owner, writer, and educator. She has a master’s degree and is currently working on her next novel, Strawberry Spring, and a documentary. A musical stageplay, Blackberry Daze, is based on her debut novel.