CHARLOTTE SANDERS, a precocious American girl growing up in Paris in the late 1970s, leads a charmed life. But her idyllic childhood is turned upside down when her mother, Astrid, has an affair and the family is shattered. Leaving her sister in Paris, Charlotte follows Astrid to New York. There, in the shadow of her glamorous and erratic mother, Charlotte has to negotiate her path to womanhood, eventually living through her own unhappy love affair and returning to a Europe that has been reshaped by the downfall of Communism.
At once a coming-of-age story and meditation on cultural identity, Dreaming in French is an enchanting portrayal of the challenges of adolescence and an honest account of one girl’s discovery that where we come from makes us who we are.
This reading group guide forDreaming in French 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.
QUESTIONS AND TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Why did Frank and Astrid move to Paris? Is the city a natural fit for them? Do they consider France their “home”?
2. In a novel filled with expatriates, what does nationality mean to each of them? Do the main characters consider themselves French, American, both, or neither?
3. Why does a teenaged Charlotte cling so closely to her mother? Are they too close for Charlotte’s own good? In one way or another, was she always afraid of losing Astrid?
4. Why do Charlotte and Lea call their parents by their first names?
5. “I didn’t trust perfection. That was why I fell in love with boys like Patrice and not Serge” (page 75). Why doesn’t Charlotte trust perfection? Are her choices in men consistent throughout the novel?
6. Which characters truly care about the political struggles happening in other countries? Is Charlotte aware of the world around her? Is Lea? Maybelle? Grace?
7. Maybelle tells Charlotte, “You and me, we’re worker bees.” (p. 84) How do they feel about their role in society? Which other characters assume the “queen bee” title and which are the “worker bees”?
8. After learning of her affair, why did Frank completely cut off Astrid? Was he fair to both Astrid and their daughters?
9. Discuss the relationship between Astrid and Maybelle. How do they compare to the novel’s other two sisters, Charlotte and Lea? Do they always want the best for each other? Do any of the women feel superior to their sister?
10. How does Charlotte’s life in New York compare to her life in Paris? If her mother never had an affair, do you think Charlotte would still have become “stunted and bleak and, yes, bitter”? (p. 172)
11. Why does Charlotte choose to attend Yale? Is she as similar to her mother as many people suggest? Does Frank have any influence over her?
12. How does Astrid’s illness change her and those who love her?
13. Ultimately, with whom was Astrid most intimate? Charlotte? Maybelle? Grace? Or someone else?
14. By novel’s end, is Charlotte happy with her life?
ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
1. As a student of French literature, the classics are clearly very important to Charlotte. Before your meeting, research some of her favorites, such as François Rabelais, and discuss how they might have influenced Charlotte.
2. From colorful walls to bright drapes to outrageous fashion, Astrid would be the first one to point out the importance of atmosphere. For your next meeting, make sure to wear your most chic ensembles, and don’t forget the French food and wine! Also make sure to play Astrid’s favorite songs—anything by the Beatles, “Unforgettable,” “These Foolish Things,” and “All of Me.”
3. Much like Charlotte, author Megan McAndrew was raised in Europe and now lives in New York City. To find out more information about her and to see pictures from her book tour, visit her Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/MeganMcAndrewAuthor/150496496918?v=wall&ref=mf
Megan McAndrew is herself the daughter of expatriates. She grew up in France, Spain and Belgium before attending college in the United States. She worked in Warsaw, Poland, as a representative for the Financial Services Volunteer Corps. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her teenage son.
“McAndrew can do cross-cultural humor with the flair of Diane Johnson, but she also has her own kind of sophistication—an international knowingness coupled with an American practicality.”
--The New York Times
“McAndrew has immense talent for calling up vastly different settings in precise detail, and her observations, as realized by her clear-eyed protagonist, are deliciously sharp-edged. Dense with context and deeply nuanced, yet effortlessly readable. McAndrew is a real find.”
“A sophisticated coming-of-age story.”
“McAndrew's casual but assured depictions of life among the upper crust of Paris and New York and wry voice, make this coming-of-age novel a delectable treat.
“McAndrew’s novel brings an original sensibility as well as a plot that takes satisfying, unexpected turns.”