In 1974, when Ann Ahern begins her junior year of high school, South Boston is in crisis -- Catholic mothers are blockading buses to keep Black children from the public schools, and teenagers are raising havoc in the streets. Ann, an outsider in her own Irish-American community, is infatuated with her beautiful French teacher, Mademoiselle Eugénie, who hails from Paris but is of African descent. Spurred by her adoration for Eugénie, Ann embarks on a journey that leads her beyond South Boston, through the fringes of the Black Power movement, toward love, and ultimately to the truth about herself.
In this ambitious and arresting novel, Stephanie Grant's searing prose, powerful storytelling, and richly drawn characters bring tumultuous moment in American history into perfect focus.
Map of Ireland opens with an epigraph by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus: “Geography is fate.” How does this apply to Ann Ahern? Is she able to escape her geography or her fate in the novel?
Ann says, “If I was a certain kind of person, I’d blame my troubles on the desegregation itself. I’d blame my being stuck here on those stupid yellow buses and the violence they seemed to bring” (4). Which characters in Map of Ireland would blame their troubles on desegregation? Do you think Ann takes personal responsibility for her crime? Why or why not?
Consider Ann’s family situation. What kind of example does each parent set for Ann? Who, if anyone, in Ann’s life serves as a positive role model?
Ann rants silently, “The sixties are over… you missed it, don’t you realize?” (42) How does the year 1974 influence Ann’s attitude? What about Rochelle’s? If the revolutionary energy of the 1960s continued into the 1970s, when did the 60s really end? Is there a particular moment in American history that signals or represents that end to you?
Ann explains to Mademoiselle Eugenie, “‘They say I have a face like the map of Ireland…. You can tell where I’m from just by looking at my face’” (60). Why do you suppose Grant chose to name the novel after this line about Ann’s appearance? Why does Mademoiselle Eugenie laugh when she compares her face to the map of France?
In considering the French word “nostalgie,” or “homesickness,” Ann states, “‘I think I have nostalgie for South Boston before the busing’” (61). What do you think Ann means? Do you think her “homesickness” is genuine? What is the difference between homesickness and nostalgia?
Twice Rochelle tells Ann, “‘I got a short attention span’” (102, 133), referring to basketball and her last relationship. Do you think Rochelle’s meaning changes when she repeats this statement?
Ann thinks, “Maybe you always loved the person or people who taught you to speak” (147). Who in this novel helps Ann find her voice?
Rochelle teases Ann by telling her she is “traveling incog-negro.” What does this expression mean to Rochelle? What does it mean to Ann?
What do you think motivates Ann to set the fire in Mademoiselle Eugenie’s bedroom? She explains, “Dr. McGraugh would say the consequence was also my intention…. I burned the house in order to lose Rochelle…. In my own mind, I burned the house because I had already lost her” (192). Which interpretation do you believe, Dr. McGraugh’s or Ann’s? Why?
Throughout the novel Ann is very conscious of Rochelle’s race. When is Rochelle conscious of Ann’s? How does that consciousness reveal itself?
In the scene in the hospital, Ann pleads with Rochelle to stay friends. Why does Rochelle refuse her? Why does Ann think Rochelle refuses her?
In Chapter 30, Ann comes to a startling realization about the film she saw earlier in the novel, A Streetcar Named Desire. “Stanley Kowalski was Black.” How does Ann’s realization relate to the idea of “traveling incog-negro”?
In the 1970s, desegregation in Northern states was necessary not because segregation was written into law as it was in the American South (separate but equal) but because Northen neighborhoods were segregated and most students went to their neighborhood school. How does this pattern of segregation relate to the title Map of Ireland?
Map of Ireland is a coming-of-age novel. Does it remind you of any other coming-of-age novels you have read? Which ones? Does it differ in any interesting ways?
How does Ann’s Catholicism structure the novel?
What does Sister Gail mean when she tells Ann that “onfession without penance is simply a form of self-aggrandizement”?
There are a lot of different (literal) maps referred to in the novel. Can you list them?
Stephanie Grant is an award-winning writer whose first novel, The Passion of Alice, was longlisted for Britain's Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Fiction. She has taught creative writing at Ohio State University and Mount Holyoke College and is currently visiting writer at the Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University.
"Stephanie Grant's fast-paced but beautifully turned new novel brings to troubled life once more the South Boston of the 1970s. It also brings to life Ann Ahern, a bright, wisecracking teenager who is part Huck Finn and part Holden Caulfield -- as well as a maturing young woman with sexual longings for certain people who are both the 'wrong' race and the 'wrong' gender. Ann's freckled face, she's told, is a map of Ireland -- but it's also a mask that Stephanie Grant strips to reveal a funny, sad, deeply sympathetic character." -- Mary Jo Salter, author of Open Shutters and Sunday Skaters
"Winged words, new words: arrondissement. Nostalgie. Pyromaniac. Penance and confession. Language is Ann Ahern's and Map of Ireland's magic charm. Making all new vocabulary that comes her way her own, including Irish-rooted hyperbole, this remarkable heroine defines herself through the words she acquires and 'becomes.' Drawing on foundational American myths about race and identity, Grant has written an unusual hybrid: a coming-of-age novel of ideas. This is smart work." -- Pearl Abraham, author of The Seventh Beggar
"In Map of Ireland, Stephanie Grant has written a novel of hard times that is a jagged jewel of perfection. With Ann Ahern, she has created a protagonist of fierce individuality, daunting irony, and always surprising courage -- it is as if Charles Dickens had written a tomboy." -- Honor Moore, author of The Bishop's Daughter
"Stephanie Grant's Map of Ireland is an openhearted, funny, and brave novel about the complexities of growing up in working-class Boston in the seventies. In Ann Ahern, she may have created the best tough-girl character since Scout Finch." -- Dana Spiotta, author of Eat the Document
"Map of Ireland is one of those novels that unexpectedly fell into my lap and I was immediately hooked. I could not put this book down. Riveting, clear-eyed, brutally honest, Grant's story draws us into the Boston racial crisis brought to a head during the busing campaigns in the seventies. In the midst of this struggle, out steps Ann Ahern -- one of the most disarming, haunted, and gorgeously conflicted narrators to come along in years. You will love this girl. Ann Ahern will charm you; disarm you. She will enrage you, but she will never let you go." -- Alison Smith, author of Name All the Animals