Skip to Main Content

She Matters

A Life in Friendships

From the bestselling “immensely gifted” (Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times) author of Her Last Death comes a fearless, compulsively readable, intensely provocative book about female friendships.

THE BEST FRIEND WHO BROKE UP WITH YOU. The older girl at school you worshipped. The friend who betrayed you. The friend you betrayed. Companions in travel, in discovery, in motherhood, in grief; the mentor, the model, the rescuer, the guide, the little sister. These have been the friends in Susanna Sonnenberg’s life, women tender, dominant, and crucial.

Searing and superbly written, Sonnenberg’s She Matters: A Life in Friendships illuminates the friendships that have influenced, nourished, inspired, and haunted her—and sometimes torn her apart. Each has its own lessons that Sonnenberg seeks to understand. Her method is investigative and ruminative; her result, fearlessly observed portraits of friendships that will inspire all readers to consider the complexities of their own relationships. This electric book is testimony to the emotional bonds between women, whether shattered, shaky, or unbreakable.

This reading group guide for She Matters 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.


Introduction

She Matters is an exquisitely observed memoir told through the lens of female friendships. Tracing her life from early childhood through the present day, Susanna Sonnenberg examines the girls and women who have perplexed, devastated, sustained, and shaped her. What emerges is a highly intimate study of the rich bonds and complications of friendship.  

Topics & Questions for Discussion 

1. Sonnenberg covers more than forty years and writes about twenty friendships. Which of these women would you want to be friends with? Is Susanna aware of the ways in which she is a challenging friend?
 
2. In the chapter “Roommate” Sonnenberg writes, “My mother had taught me that sex—sexual touch, innuendo, sexual acts, sexual interest—was the way to know another person truly, connection guaranteed” (page 78). How does this influence Susanna’s ability to forge friendships? In what other ways does Sonnenberg’s mother shape her ability to develop and maintain close connections with women?
 
3. Sonnenberg writes about Annabelle’s antique furniture in “Annabelle Upstairs”: “I was clouded by envy I had to beat back, how she belonged to these objects and through them understood her own belonging” (page 94). How does the notion of belonging shape Susanna?
 
4. Friendships often change when one friend has a baby. How is Susanna affected by her friends who are mothers? How does becoming a mother affect her relationships with other women?
 
5. Some of the friendships described in She Matters burn out, and the one with Claire in “Kindling” ends with an outright breakup. Is there a common reason why these friendships fall apart? Have you ever had a friendship end? Some of the friendships don’t last, such as Nina’s in “Within Reach” and Flora’s in “Naked.” Why does the author choose to include them in the book? What power do they still have?
 
6. Sonnenberg’s first book, Her Last Death, chronicles her experience of growing up with a difficult and destructive mother, a subject she revisits in the chapter “Women Are Like This,” where she describes her childhood “home of women.” In She Matters she writes, “What I really needed to know, to rewrite, was my previous definition of the word mother” (page 155). How does she go about this monumental task? Which friends help her redefine mother? Has she forged a mature “home of women”?
 
7. What role does marriage play in the friendships Sonnenberg describes? Once she marries, what role do her friends play in her own understanding of marriage?
 
8. Sonnenberg writes of her friendship with Nina in “Within Reach” that she is “unsure of the mistakes and what I failed to fix” (page 131). Do you harbor lingering doubts, regrets, or questions about certain relationships?
 
9. Adele in “Ritual,” Connie in “Real Estate,” and Marlene in “The Four Seasons” support Susanna through difficult transitions. How do friendships sustain you in times of crisis?
 
10. Some of Susanna’s friendships burn as passionately and fervently as love affairs. What distinguishes a friendship from a romance? In what ways are the two alike?
 
11. In “The Root Cellar,” Sonnenberg describes a dangerous situation. How does Susanna consider her own circumstances compared with her friend’s? How does Sonnenberg feel about this now?
 
12. Sonnenberg looks back over a lifetime. How do you reflect on your own friendships as you read She Matters? Do you remember people you’d forgotten? Do you remember the person you once were?

More books from this author: Susanna Sonnenberg