“An eerie, tense, and finely written novel…Readers will grip their chairs” (SFGate.com) as they try to unravel this tale of psychological suspense from the award-winning New York Times bestselling author of Turn of Mind.
Jane loses everything when her teenage daughter is killed in a senseless accident. Devastated, she manages to make one tiny stab at a new life: she moves from San Francisco to the seaside town of Half Moon Bay. Jane is inconsolable, and yet, as the months go by, she is able to cobble together some version of a job, of friends, of the possibility of peace.
And then, children begin to disappear. And soon, Jane sees her own pain reflected in all the parents in the town. She wonders if she will be able to live through the aching loss, the fear all around her. And as the disappearances continue, she begins to see that what her neighbors are wondering is if it is Jane herself who has unleashed the horror of loss.
Alice LaPlante’s “well-crafted novel of psychological suspense” is a chilling story about a mother haunted by her past, a “brooding suspense novel…dark, starkly beautiful…LaPlante uses a seductively dangerous landscape to mirror her heroine’s inner life” (Kirkus Reviews).
Reading Group Guide
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This reading group guide for Half Moon Bay 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.
Half Moon Bay is a smart, haunting tale of psychological suspense from the award-winning New York Times bestselling author of Turn of Mind.
Jane loses everything when her teenage daughter is killed in a senseless accident. Jane is devastated, but sometime later, she makes one tiny stab at a new life: she moves from San Francisco to the tiny seaside town of Half Moon Bay. She is inconsolable, and yet, as the months go by, she is able to cobble together some version of a job, of friends, of the possibility of peace.
And then, children begin to disappear. And soon, Jane sees her own pain reflected in all the parents in the town. She wonders if she will be able to live through the aching loss, the fear all around her. But as the disappearances continue, she begins to see that what her neighbors are wondering is if it is Jane herself who has unleashed the horror of loss on the town.
Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. LaPlante has crafted a deeply complicated protagonist. Discuss the author’s decision to write this story in close third person. How does the choice of this point of view impact our understanding of Jane? If LaPlante had written this novel in first person (I, me) or third person omniscient (where we would have understood others’ thoughts) how would this have impacted the narrative and our understanding of Jane?
2. Instead of fully revealing Angela’s death at the beginning of the novel, LaPlante creates suspense and intrigue, slowly doling out details—about Angela’s life, about the day she was killed, about the effect her death had on Jane—before fully revealing the accident. Discuss the effect of LaPlante’s decision to hold certain details back before revealing others. Where else does she does this do this in the novel?
3. Jane is consumed by her own tremendous loss and has “posted Merriam-Webster’s definition [of it] on her bedroom mirror. Deprivation. She has been grievously deprived” (page 19). Discuss your own definition of loss and the effect it can have on a person.
4. Throughout the novel, Jane refers to herself as a madwoman. Regarding the first child abductions: “Jane is conflicted. She should be ashamed to feel joy in someone else’s misfortune, yet the inevitable schadenfreude has raised its ugly head. I told you so. The madnesses descend, one by one” (page 23). Discuss Jane’s relationship to madness.
5. Jane experiences multiple interactions with characters who believe that she may be behind the murders. In a conversation with the FBI, an agent says: “We know that you have been what many would call unstable. That you are, as they say, capable of going off the rails” (page 57). Did you question the reliability of Jane’s account of events? Did you ever doubt Jane’s innocence? When?
6. The town of Half Moon Bay feels like a character itself. How would you characterize the community? Do you think these crimes have happened anywhere? Discuss why LaPlante may have chosen this setting.
7. Consider the moment when Jane is with Alma on a literal edge: “[Jane] is strangely drawn to edges. She knows she would throw herself off bridges, jump off cliffs, step off narrow paths on steep mountains if she let herself get too close. It would be irresistible” (page 98). Discuss LaPlante’s character building in this passage. How does revisiting this passage illuminate what happens later in the novel?
8. After Jane has allowed Edward and Alma into her life, she becomes obsessed with them, both separately and together. Edward and Alma seem to give Jane a sense of belonging and purpose, and they quickly develop an intimate and secretive bond. What were your initial impressions of the couple? How did your feelings about Edward and Alma change over the course of the novel? What were the turning points?
9. Consider the following quote from Sheree: “Have you noticed how much grief is like fear?” (page 141). Discuss with your group the heart and meaning of this quotation—where do we see this in the novel? Does it have emotional truth for you, in your own life?
10. Near the end of the book Edward, Alma, and Jane are involved in a protest that involves “civil disobedience.” Worrying about the consequences, Jane asks, “What have you done?” “You mean we,” Edward replies. “You’re implicated in this. If we go down, you go down” (pages 206–207). Reread this passage and then the final pages of the novel. In what ways does this statement foreshadow the events that take place later in the novel?
11. Edward and Alma “are drugs [Jane] has unknowingly become addicted to” (page 234). Did you ever wonder why Edward and Alma were interested in Jane or what their intentions were? Were they truly magnetized by Jane? What did they want from her? Were they merely looking for someone to take the blame for their crimes?
12. After discovering Megan, Victim Number 5, in Edward and Alma’s home, Jane wonders what would happen if she were to do nothing: “They would be closer, bound by a deeper, darker bond” (page 255). Do you think Jane is really tempted at this prospect? Why? Discuss the scene with your group. How did it make you feel?
13. The end of Half Moon Bay comes almost as a landslide. How did LaPlante’s ending leave you feeling? Compare this narrative structure and climax with other psychological thrillers you’ve read.
Enhance Your Book Club
1. LaPlante’s psychological thriller Turn of Mind was a New York Times bestseller. Read Turn of Mind with your book club, then compare and contrast the two books. In what ways are they similar? How has LaPlante’s writing style evolved from her earlier work?
2. In addition to novels, LaPlante has written guides to the basics of creative writing—both fiction and creative nonfiction. Method and Madness: The Making of a Story has tips for finding inspiration and getting ideas on the page. Complete some of these exercises with your group and share them.
3. Jane is passionate about native plants and botany. Plan a trip with your group to a nearby botanical garden or plant seedlings together so that everyone can take something home.
4. Unreliable narrators have appeared recently in The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and in classic novels like Vladimir Nabakov’s Lolita. Part of the challenge and enjoyment of these stories is working out the truth and understanding why the narrator is not straightforward. Read one of these novels and discuss how the book’s narrator compares to Jane. Discuss why the narrators are not always truthful.
To learn more about Alice LaPlante, read more about her other writings, and connect with her online, visit her official website at alicelaplante.com.
Alice LaPlante is an award-winning writer whose bestselling books include Half Moon Bay, A Circle of Wives, Method and Madness—The Making of a Story, and the New York Times bestseller Turn of Mind. She taught creative writing at Stanford University where she was a Wallace Stegner Fellow and in the MFA program at San Francisco State University. She lives with her family in Mallorca, Spain.