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Reading Group Guide forOne Great Lie
By Deb CalettiAbout the Book
Think of your favorite author. Not just someone whose books you like, but a writer whose work means so much to you that the phrase “favorite author” seems frivolous and nondescriptive. The author whose words burst through every wall and every belief you may have had so that they touch your soul. The one whose work you turn to and return to and cherish. Now imagine that you get to meet this author and spend time with them. Should you expect more from them than what they have already given? Do you owe them anything in return for what their words have given you over the years? In One Great Lie
, Charlotte’s favorite writer is Luca Bruni; when she earns a spot in his summer writing workshop in Italy, she cannot believe her luck. Once she’s there, however, the dynamics of the group become strained and cause Charlotte stress. Luca can be angry and difficult to please, and tensions rise between the students as they vie for Luca’s attention. Thankfully, Charlotte has the search for information about her ancestor, a poetess, to distract her when things become too much. But when Luca turns his full attention to Charlotte, she does not know how to respond. Can she find a way to pursue her writing dreams without giving up too much of herself?Discussion Questions
1. Why does the author begin each chapter with a biography of a female Italian writer? What do you notice that many have in common? Are there any recurring themes? Why do you think these sections are so short? Do they have any relevance to Charlotte’s story? Explain your answers using examples from the novel.
2. How would you characterize Charlotte’s relationship with Adam? Does she love him? Why does she break up with him? How does his reaction to the breakup compare to his behavior throughout the rest of their relationship?
3. Charlotte describes herself and Yas as “the polite, anxious sort of people who worry about getting into trouble.” How does this character trait show itself throughout the story? Are any of her actions surprising, knowing that she sees herself as this sort of person? Do you think she changes her view of herself over the course of the book?
4. Why is Charlotte drawn to words and writing? What inspires her? Why is Luca Bruni her favorite author?
5. Why do Charlotte’s parents fight so much? What are their roles in these arguments? How does their fighting affect Charlotte and Ella?
6. Why does Charlotte feel sorry for people who have never loved the work of a particular artist? Do you think she still feels this way by the end of the story? Have you ever felt so strongly about an artist? Explain your answers.
7. The first thing people seem to notice about Carly is her looks. How do you think Carly would describe herself? What do you think she would want people to know about her? Why is Charlotte so disappointed when Luca notices Carly’s eyes at the book signing? How does physical appearance contribute to the way people are viewed? Give other examples of where you see this happening in the novel, and how it affects the characters and situations.
8. How do the Venetian locals feel about Luca? How can you tell? Do you think any of them really know him?
9. Luca is prone to outbursts of anger; we see this after Katerina falls in the canal, when someone challenges his writing, and elsewhere. How do different students react to his fits of rage? What feelings do they bring up for Charlotte? What do her instincts tell her to do after each of them?
10. Why do you think Charlotte makes the impulsive decision to bring Isabella’s book with her to Italy? Why is it important to her that she find more information about Isabella’s life and work? Do these reasons change over the course of the story? What effect do the revelations about Isabella’s life have on Charlotte?
11. Why does Charlotte hesitate to post the photo of her and Luca on social media? What is Luca’s attitude toward being treated like a famous person? Why does Charlotte eventually decide to post the photo? How do you feel about her decision?
12. Bethany tells the students that in the past, “‘Female writers, too, had to be ushered into public acceptance by the praise of a male writer.’” Is this still true today? Does this statement make you feel differently about Luca’s actions toward Charlotte and the others? Explain your answers.
13. When Luca first turns his attention to Charlotte, she says, “‘The words are larger than any of the weird stuff that’s going on now, aren’t they? What those words do, how they affect people, they’re worth more than how he might affect people in real life, right?’” Do you think this is true? Does Charlotte believe it? Do you think you can separate a person’s work from the things they do in real life? Explain your answers.
14. When Dante finds Charlotte at the festival, she is “so, so happy to see him. It’s so normal. He is, they are. It’s such a relief.” What do you think she means by “normal”? How does her relationship with Dante compare to her relationship with Adam or Luca? Why is her relationship with Dante so important to her?
15. Why do you think Luca makes his students write about what haunts them? Do you think it’s a coincidence that he only chooses people for the program who are haunted by something from their pasts? What parts of Charlotte’s upbringing and personality make her particularly susceptible to Luca’s attentions? How does Luca take advantage of his position of power and influence?
16. During their special one-on-one excursion, Luca brings Charlotte to a convent. How does this make Charlotte feel? What parallels does this create between Isabella and Charlotte, as far as their freedom and their abilities to have their voices heard? Does Luca understand Charlotte as deeply as she had hoped he did? How does her trip compare to Katerina’s?
17. Does Luca think that Charlotte has talent? Why does Charlotte question this? How do Luca’s actions affect Charlotte’s desire to write?
18. Luca’s advances are particularly upsetting to the girls because he is charming and they want to please him. Charlotte describes his gaze as “a force of energy. . . . It’s the kind of energy that makes you want things. Him, even, or maybe just to give him things. You, but not your body exactly. Just the truth of you.” How do these types of conflicting feelings confuse the situation? Does the fact that the girls enjoy his attention take away their right to protest his advances? Do you think they owe him anything for all the help he’s given them with their writing, and for choosing them to participate in the program?
19. What is the “one great lie” that the title names? How much has changed from Isabella’s time to now? Do you think men have changed the way they treat creative women? Explain your answers.Extension Activities
1. Take Luca Bruni’s writing course: Choose something that haunts you, and write a short story about it. Focus on voice, setting, and other aspects of writing that Luca mentions during the summer course. Read your story aloud to a small group of classmates or friends and ask for their suggestions.
2. Between La Calamita and meals with Dante and Maria, Charlotte enjoys many long meals with traditional Italian dishes. Choose one of the dishes mentioned in the book, or find a cookbook with traditional Italian recipes, and learn how to cook it. Share it with your friends and family.
3. Fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italy is not the only place and time where female artists had trouble being taken seriously and finding recognition for their work. Find an example of a female artist who either had to make sacrifices to have her work known or was punished for having talent. Write a short report about the artist you have chosen, and brainstorm ways to make her story known.
4. Maria has made the Alta Acqua Libreria into a shop that reflects her interests and beliefs, as well as the history of her city. What would your dream bookstore look like? What kind of books would you carry? How would they be arranged? What would the space look like? Draw a picture or write a description of your ideal bookstore.
5. Dante is passionate about restoring the books and letters that were damaged in the flood. Every family has at least one item—a photo, a letter, a book—that is important to them, but that has been damaged. Research ways that such an item could be restored. Is there a specialist in your area who could restore the item? Are there some simple fixes that you could use to stop the deterioration? Are there places nearby that work to preserve historical records and objects? What is the danger in losing these records?
6. While in Venice, Charlotte participates in several festivals that move her deeply. Is there a local festival that celebrates the history of your area? Even if you’ve gone since you were a child, try going into the festival with fresh eyes, as though you were seeing it for the first time. What aspects of it strike you? If you’re not aware of a local festival, what kind would you like to see put together? What would it celebrate? What kinds of activities would it include?Guide written by Cory Grimminck, Director of the Portland District Library in Michigan.This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry.