The timeless, fearless, #1 New York Times bestselling memoir from the author of The Lovely Bones—a powerful account of her sexual assault at the age of eighteen and the harrowing trial that followed, now with a new afterword by the author.
In a memoir hailed for its searing candor, as well as its wit, Alice Sebold reveals how her life was transformed when, as an eighteen-year-old college freshman, she was brutally raped and beaten in a park near campus. What ultimately propels this chronicle of sexual assault and its aftermath is Sebold’s indomitable spirit, as she fights to secure her rapist’s arrest and conviction and comes to terms with a relationship to the world that has forever changed. With over a million copies in print, Lucky has touched the lives of a generation of readers. Sebold illuminates the experience of trauma victims and imparts a wisdom profoundly hard-won: “You save yourself or you remain unsaved.” Now reissued with a new afterword by the author, her story remains as urgent as it was when it was first published eighteen years ago.
This reading group guide for Lucky includes an introduction and discussion questions. 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.
In a memoir hailed for its searing candor as well as its wit, Alice Sebold reveals how her life was transformed when, as an eighteen-year-old college freshman, she was brutally raped and beaten in a park near campus. What propels this chronicle is Sebold’s indomitable spirit—as she struggles for understanding; as her family and friends sometimes bungle their efforts to provide comfort and support; and as she ultimately triumphs, managing through grit and coincidence to help secure her attacker’s arrest and conviction. In a narrative by turns thrilling and inspiring, Sebold illuminates the experience of trauma victims and imparts a wisdom profoundly hard-won: “You save yourself or you remain unsaved.”
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Lucky opens with an incredibly brutal scene. Immediately after the rape, Alice tells her attacker she forgives him. Why?
2. “I was learning that no one—females included—knew what to do with a rape victim” (page 78). How did Alice’s friends and classmates react to her story?
3. Alice writes that she was “raised in a house where my mother’s problems provided the glue of family” (page 167). Discuss the Sebold family dynamic. In what ways did Alice’s family provide the support she needed in the aftermath of the rape? In what ways did they fail? How did her role in the family evolve?
4. What effect did Alice’s rape have on her relationship with her sister? Do you think Alice and Mary were closer before the rape or after? Why?
5. Discuss the role of race in this story. Sebold mentions what she calls “the cosmetics of any rape case.” What does she mean by this?
6. Picture that October afternoon when Alice found herself face-to-face with her attacker. Would your reaction have been different from Alice’s?
7. “Remember everything,” Alice’s professor and notable memoirist Tobias Wolff tells her as she heads to the police station. How was this advice helpful to her?
8. Reflecting on a poem for her workshop with Tess Gallagher, Alice wrote, “You could not be filled with hate and be beautiful” (page 103). Discuss her poem Conviction” and the reactions it elicited.
9. Alice fails to identify Gregory Madison in the police lineup. In what ways does Alice’s lawyer’s comment that “rights are weighted on the side of the defendant” (page 145) ring true?
10. What seems to drive Alice forward as the prosecution of Gregory Madison continues? What did you learn about a rape trial by reading Lucky?
11. If Alice had been sexually active before the rape, how might her recovery have been different? At the trial, was Alice’s virginity a factor in securing Gregory Madison’s conviction?
12. Discuss Alice’s response to Lila’s rape. How does that impact the relationship between the friends?
13. “It is not just forcible intercourse; rape means to inhabit and destroy everything” (page 127). Discuss how this applies to Alice’s experience.
Alice Sebold is the author of three #1 bestselling books, including Lucky, and the novels The Lovely Bones and The Almost Moon. Her work has been translated into more than fifty languages and has appeared in The New York Times and The Guardian, among other publications. She is a member of the National Leadership Council for RAINN.org (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network). She lives in California.
“A rueful, razor-sharp memoir…funnier than you’d think was possible....Sebold’s commanding skill as a narrator (at her best, describing the awful crime itself, she brings to mind a fierce young Joan Didion) forces you to relive her terror....This is a brave and modest work of demystification.... She tells what it’s like to go through a particular kind of nightmare in order to tell what it’s like—slowly, bumpily, triumphantly—to heal.”
– Sarah Kerr, Vogue
"In the midst of each wrenching episode, from the initial attack to the ensuing courtroom drama, Sebold's wit is as powerful as her searing candor... a fiercely observed memoir about how an incident of such profound violence can change the course of one's life."
– Publishers Weekly
"A stunningly crafted and unsparing account... a memoir that reads like detective fiction... told with mettle and intelligence, Sebold's story of fierce determination to wrest back her life from her rapist will inspire and challenge."
– Kirkus Reviews
"Lucky-- which reads like a John Grisham page-turner-- can't help but haunt you... Sebold's is a story about having the courage to speak about the unspeakable."
– Sheryl Altman, Biography
"Reading Lucky, which I did in a single sitting, I was struck by the awful solitude that violence brings, both at the moment and in its aftermath. In this brilliant, eloquent, funny, precise account of how she survived rape and the pursuit of justice, Alice Sebold has triumphantly broken that solitude. We, her readers, are the fortunate beneficiaries."
– Margot Livesey
"This book proves at once the astounding bravery of Alice Sebold in the face of dreadful circumstance and the extraordinary power of words to heal. Sebold has made beauty out of agony."
– Carolyn See
"Sharp-eyed and unsentimental... It's hard to believe that a book about brutal rape and its aftermath could actually be inspirational. But despite its disturbing subject, Alice Sebold's Lucky is exhilirating to read. Raped in a tunnel when she was a freshman at Syracuse University, the ironic, nervy Sebold refused to let the experience diminish her... or her sense of humor... Reading Lucky, you understand how Sebold succeeded in persuading a judge that what happened to her occurred precisely-- word for word, detail for detail-- the way she described it."
– Francine Prose, Elle
"This carefully detailed memoir is a tour de force of memory and rage."
"A harrowing story that's still vibrating and flexible... Give Alice Sebold your attention for her first five pages and you're in for the whole ride."
– Sally Eckhoff, Salon
"A vivid account of Sebold's rape and its effect on her and her family... the rape is only the beginning of Sebold's story."
– Dennis McLellan, Los Angeles Times
“A literary memoir that shines with personality. There is such openness in Sebold’s brash, vibrant style that the book feels like the long version of a friend’s breathless account of an ordeal.”
– Carmen Schneidel, Time Out New York
“Gruesome and strangely enchanting... A controlled and meticulous account... The quiet achievement of Sebold’s memoir is that she handles her subject with the integrity of a journalist and the care of a survivor... It succeeds not just as a record of one woman's pain and healing, but as fine creative nonfiction.”
– Casey Greenfield, Newsday
“Eloquent... Sebold’s opening scene is as gripping and terrifying as any in a film....Her voice is a powerful new plea to break the silence that still clings to this taboo, and little understood, subject... this powerful memoir leaves it to readers to decide how lucky Sebold was.”