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Happens Every Day

An All-Too-True Story

About The Book

Isabel Gillies had a wonderful life—a handsome, intelligent, loving husband who was a professor; two glorious toddlers; a beautiful house in their Midwestern college town; the time and place to express all her ebullience and affection and optimism. Suddenly, the life Isabel had made crumbled. Her husband, Josiah, announced that he was leaving her and their two young sons. "Happens every day," said a friend.

Far from a self-pitying diatribe, Happens Every Day reads like an intimate conversation between friends. It is a dizzyingly candid, compulsively readable, ultimately redemptive story about love, marriage, family, heartbreak, and the unexpected turns of a life. On the one hand, reading this book is like watching a train wreck. On the other hand, as Gillies herself says, it is about trying to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness, and loving your life even if it has slipped away.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Happens Every Day by Isabel Gillies 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. 


Isabel Gillies had a picture perfect life: she lived with her loving husband and two wonderful children in a gorgeous home in Oberlin, Ohio.  She was splitting her time between teaching drama and being a mother and wife.  It was perfect – too perfect. 

When a new professor at Oberlin named Sylvia enters Isabel’s life, she embraces her as a close friend. But Isabel soon begins to suspect that Sylvia and Isabel’s husband, Josiah, are having an affair. A devastated Isabel frantically attempts to make things work but realizes that she must deal with loss of her marriage and the breakdown of her family; an event that apparently “happens every day.”

Happens Every Day is the story of a woman who left everything she knew to be with the man of her dreams, only to have that man break her heart. It is a book about losing love, finding strength, and moving on.  


Questions for Discussion

1.  Discuss the theme of identity in the book.  Did Isabel give up any of her identity when she made the choice to follow Josiah?  Follow this up with Isabel’s notion that “when you move around so much together from job to job…one person slowly loses their identity” (p. 9).

2. What were some of the warning signs about Josiah that Isabel admits she did not heed?  Why did she choose to ignore them?  What would you have done if you were presented with similar warning signs in a partner?

3. Throughout Happens Every Day, Gillies compares events and people in her life to plots and characters from famous movies and novels.  Why do you think she does this?  How does this add to the descriptive quality of the characters and events?

4.  Talk about Isabel and Sylvia’s relationship throughout Happens Every Day.   How did Isabel handle the transition from Sylvia as her “good friend my own age” (p. 75) to the woman responsible for ending her marriage?

5. Isabel mentions “I remember thinking my life was perfect.  It felt so perfect that I thought something was bound to go wrong.  Life doesn’t stay this good” (p. 94).  Do you feel that everything was really as “perfect” as she made it out to be, or is this hindsight?  Were there warning signs on the horizon that her marriage was in trouble?

6. What is the significance of the title Happens Every Day? Who did it come from?  What impact did it have on the author?  (p. 177)

7. There’s a very pivotal moment in the book between Isabel and a pancake.  What did that moment prove to her?  Why was it so important for Isabel to have that moment?

8. What was the pet name that Isabel and Josiah had for each other?  How did it get started?  How does it play a key role in Isabel’s realization that her marriage is truly over?

9.  Isabel’s separation and divorce takes place in the small town of Oberlin, Ohio. Do you think the location had a great impact on how she dealt with her divorce?  Do you think she would have handled things differently if she were in New York?

10. Isabel ends the novel right after she leaves Oberlin, claiming, “telling you everything we went through after December 17 would fill another book” (p. 254).  Would you have liked to learn more about Isabel’s new start?  Why do you think she chose to end it where she did and the way she did?


Enhancing Your Book Club

1. Read one of the classic works that Isabel mentions in her memoir: Endurance, The Spoon River Anthology, Emma, etc.  Make it the focus of one of your bookclub nights! 

2. Make your own “Working It Out Curry” and share some with your bookclub!

3.  Isabel tells us what her motto is.  Share your own motto with your bookclub and discuss how it’s helped through both the good times and the bad. 

About The Author

Photo Credit: Jason McDonald

Isabel Gillies is a New York Times bestselling author of Happens Every Day, A Year And Six Seconds, Starry Night, and Cozy. Her writing has been published in Vogue, The New York TimesReal Simple, Cosmopolitan, GOOP, and Saveur. A lifelong New Yorker and actress for many years, she lives in Manhattan with her husband, three kids and two dogs.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (March 2, 2010)
  • Length: 272 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781439126622

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Raves and Reviews

"Fans of Eat, Pray, Love will devour this book."
— John Searles,

“A memoir so raw you feel like it’s your best friend telling you her story.”
Glamour, “Must-Read”

“A smart, rueful memoir of love, betrayal and survival.”
O, the Oprah magazine

“You gobble up [Happens Every Day], rooting for the engaging Gillies… A guilty pleasure for readers."
USA Today

“I couldn’t help but admire her bravery in exposing the dark side of her seemingly perfect life in such a good-humored, self-effacing way…. You feel nothing but deepest sympathy.”

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