From one of the most admired and beloved couples in recent American history, an extraordinarily moving story of public service, risk-taking, romance—and the journey toward recovery. This book delivers hope and redemption in the face of the tragic shooting, and introduces two unforgettable heroes.
As individuals, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, showed Americans how optimism, an adventurous spirit, and a call to service can help change the world. As a couple, they became a national example of the healing power to be found in deeply shared love and courage. Their arrival in the world spotlight came under the worst of circumstances. On January 8, 2011, while meeting with her constituents in Tucson, Arizona, Gabby was the victim of an assassination attempt that left six people dead and thirteen wounded. Gabby was shot in the head; doctors called her survival “miraculous.” As the nation grieved, Gabby remained in private, focused on her against-all-odds recovery. Mark spent every possible moment by her side, as he also prepared for his final mission as commander of the space shuttle Endeavour. Now, as Gabby’s health continues to improve, the couple shares their remarkable untold story. Told in Mark’s voice and from Gabby’s heart, Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope chronicles the lives that brought these two extraordinary people together and provides an unflinching look at the overwhelming challenges of brain injury, the painstaking process of learning to communicate again, and the responsibilities that fall to a loving spouse who wants the best possible treatment for his wife. Gabby and Mark made a pledge to tell their account as honestly as possible, and they have done so in riveting detail, taking listeners behind many closed doors—from the flight deck of the space shuttle to the cloakrooms of Congress to the hospital wards where Gabby struggled to reclaim herself. Questions are answered with unvarnished candor. How do Gabby and Mark feel about the angry political discourse that was swirling in America at the time of the shooting, and that remains prevalent today? How do they see government living up to the highest possible ideals? And how do they understand and mourn the loss of the people who did not survive that day? Intimate, inspiring, and unforgettably moving, Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope is a reminder of the power of true grit, the patience needed to overcome unimaginable obstacles, and the transcendence of love. In the story of Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly, we all can see the best in ourselves.
This reading group guide for Gabby: A Story of Courage, Love, and Resilience 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.
Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and astronaut Mark Kelly found in each other a steadfast commitment to public service, a deep curiosity about the world around them, and a shared passion for adventure. At their wedding in 2007, Robert Reich toasted “to a bride who moves at a velocity that exceeds that of anyone else in Washington, and to a groom who moves at a velocity that exceeds seventeen thousand miles per hour.” On January 8, 2011, Gabby survived a horrific shooting that left six people dead and thirteen wounded at a Congress on Your Corner event in Tucson, Arizona. Her life and Mark’s were changed forever.
Gabby: A Story of Courage, Love, and Resilience takes readers into the lives of this extraordinary couple—the influences that molded their passions in childhood, their professional triumphs, their family and friendships, and their marriage. Anchoring the book is the profoundly inspiring story of Gabby’s recovery, a testament to enduring love, courage, and hope.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Doctors, nurses, therapists, friends, colleagues, family—seemingly the whole nation—rallied to the cause of Gabby’s recovery. Why do you think Gabby’s recovery became a cause that brought different kinds of people together?
2. After witnessing the Tucson shootings and Gabby’s medical progress through the filter of the media, what was it like to hear Mark and Gabby’s side of the story? What surprised you?
3. Gabby loved the mission of her alma mater Scripps College, written by Ellen Browning Scripps, which stated that the school aimed to develop in students “the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously and hopefully” (p. 78). In what ways does Gabby exemplify this mission statement?
4. Mark writes that, at thirty, Gabby was finally prepared to run for elected office: “She was now the candidate Gabrielle Giffords and she was ready to serve” (p. 86). What do you think makes someone “ready to serve”? What life experiences and personal qualities seem to influence Gabby’s identity as a politician?
5. How did Mark’s training as an astronaut help him navigate Gabby’s recovery process? What facets of Gabby’s recovery were initially unfamiliar to Mark? Have you ever been placed in a caretaker position?
6. Mark says that being an astronaut is like picking one card out of a deck: “Imagine that I offered you a million dollars if you pick any of the fifty-two cards except the ace of spades . . . But the deal would be: If you pick the ace of spades, you’d lose your life” (p. 132). Would you risk your life for the opportunity to travel to space? Do you consider yourself a risk-taker? Reflect on the biggest risk you have ever taken in your personal life. What was the outcome?
7. Mark writes, “I know the magnitude of what it means to use destructive force against people . . . Much of it is beyond senseless, like the gunman’s rampage in Tucson. But even violence with a purpose—including my missions in the skies over Iraq—requires solemn reflection” (pp. 99–100). Do you agree with Mark’s statement? Compare and contrast the violence of war with the Tucson shooting.
8. Gabby’s recovery is ongoing, but the progress she has made so far is nothing short of miraculous. Through media coverage of her experience, many of us learned for the first time about the incredibly slow and arduous work involved in overcoming brain trauma and the number of people involved—from surgeons to speech therapists to dedicated family. Do you know or know of people who have suffered this kind of injury? Do you have more appreciation of the medical and therapeutic communities having read this book?
9. Mark describes Gabby’s discomfort with the increasingly violent rhetoric in politics in the years and months leading up to the shooting. In the 2010 race for Gabby’s seat, Gabby’s opponent Jesse Kelly invited supporters to pay fifty dollars to shoot an automatic M16, encouraged the shooters to “help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office,” and promised to “Get on Target for Victory in November” (pp. 154–55). Sarah Palin’s PAC website showed a map with a gun sight over Gabby’s district, and Palin tweeted: “Don’t Retreat, Instead—RELOAD!” (p. 153). What do you make of this rhetoric? Are statements like this harmless political bluster, or do you think they could have played a role in the Tucson shooting?
10. Reflect on the chapter of the book written in Gabby’s own words. What one word or phrase do you think best describes Gabby?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Gabby and Mark have dedicated their lives to public service. Honor their commitments with your book club by picking a worthy cause and volunteer together for an afternoon. For inspiration and direction, consider the following issues that Gabby and Mark championed: environmentalism, supporting young women in politics, health care advocacy for war veterans, promoting science and exploration in education, immigration. If any other causes described in Gabby struck a chord with you and your book club, research how to get involved in your own community.
2. It’s one thing to read about Gabrielle’s progress in Gabby; it’s another thing to see how far she’s come. As Gabby wrote herself, “To understand something, you have to see it” (p. 158). Watch some of the online clips of Gabby and Mark’s interview with Diane Sawyer on a special edition of 20/20 and discuss your impressions and observations afterward. What aspects of Gabby’s recovery surprised you? What moments did you find particularly inspiring? How did the clips enhance your understanding of Gabby’s recovery? You can watch the entire interview online here: abc.go.com/watch/2020/SH559026/VD55153303/gabby-giffords—mark-kelly-courage-and-hope.
3. As Gabby’s doctors repeatedly explained to Mark, no two brain injuries are alike, and no two patients will recover in the same way. Visit the “Cognitive Skill of the Brain” section on the Brain Injury Association of Utah’s website at www.biau.org/what/what_cognitive.html, where you’ll find an interactive map of the human brain. Click on each section of the brain and read the descriptions with your book club members. Can you identify the areas in which Gabby was injured? How does this information enhance your understanding of the medical issues Gabby faced, and still faces, in her recovery?
Gabrielle Giffords is known across the country for her resilience in the face of violence, and for her consensus-building leadership in Congress. The youngest woman ever elected to the Arizona State Senate, Giffords served in the Arizona Legislature from 2000-2005 and in Congress from 2006-2012.
Mark Kelly is a retired astronaut and US Navy Captain. His picture book Mousetronaut, illustrated by C.F. Payne was a #1 New York Times bestseller. He flew his first of four missions in 2001 aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour, the same space shuttle that he commanded on its final flight in May 2011.