This reading group guide for His Favorites 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.Introduction
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Taut, propulsive, and devastating, His Favorites
reveals the interior life of a young woman determined to navigate the treachery in a new world. Told from her perspective many years later, the story coolly describes a series of shattering events and the system that failed to protect her. Walbert, who brilliantly explored a century of women’s struggles for rights and recognition in her award-winning A Short History of Women
, limns the all-too-common violations of vulnerability and aspiration in the lives of young women in this suspenseful short novel.Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. How is the epigraph from Willa Cather’s My Mortal Enemy
, “But you may have a past already? The darkest ones come early,” a fitting opening for His Favorites
2. Jo describes the golf course as “all of it designed for entrapment“ (page 10). What other places and situations in the novel seem built to ensnare? How so?
3. What do you think Jo’s mother is feeling after the accident? And after Jo is accepted at Hawthorne? What drives her choices for herself and for Jo?
4. Many of Jo’s memories of Hawthorne, outside of Master, involve Charlotte P. and Cynthia. What do they each mean to Jo? How do they bookend her experiences at Hawthorne?
5. Discuss the techniques Master uses to groom Jo and manipulate her circumstances at Hawthorne to his advantage. Why is he successful at Hawthorne? Why does no one intervene?
6. Why does Cynthia’s punishment at the train tracks affect Jo so much? Why didn’t she stop it earlier? Why does Lucy tell Jo that “you have to learn the rules” (page 126)? What rules, and whose?
7. Jo makes a friend in the weight room, Alex, who suggests she move off campus to the International House. Do you think she followed his advice? Why is this scene included and what is Alex’s importance to the story?
8. Jo wishes she could “stand in front of Buddy and hear him speak his judgment of me, the truth. I wanted to hear him call me a murderer” (page 132). What would hearing that from Buddy mean to Jo? What is she seeking?
9. On page 88, memory is defined as “another draft of a story”—what is the meaning of this? How is the idea of memory woven throughout the story?
10. Finally, it’s revealed that Jo is telling this story to an investigator. Who did you imagine she might be speaking to throughout the narrative? How did the shifts in perspective and tense affect your reading of Jo’s story?Enhance Your Book Club
1. Read The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner
, the short story itself or the complete story collection, by Alan Sillitoe. Discuss why it might have meant so much to Cynthia, and to Jo later in life.
2. His Favorites
closes with the image of Jo and Stephanie, two young girls climbing a magnolia tree, “inching out on a limb they believe would not dare to break beneath the weight of them” (page 149). What does the tree evoke for the reader? What are some other trees used as metaphors in literature?