The New York Times bestselling author of Learning and Leaving shares a heartwarming Christmas story about a devastating flood, lost love, and the beauty of enduring friendships.
Molly Allen lives alone in Portland, but her heart is back in Franklin, Tennessee, where five years ago she walked away from a man she cannot forget, a rare sort of love she hasn’t found since. Ryan Kelly lives in Franklin and spends plenty of time at The Bridge—the oldest bookstore in historic downtown Franklin—remembering the long hours he and Kelly once spent there. Now, Ryan and Molly’s favorite bookstore is in trouble. For thirty years, Charlie and Donna Barton have run The Bridge, providing the people of middle Tennessee with coffee, conversation, and shelves of good books—even through dismal book sales and the rise of eBooks. Then in May a flood tore through Franklin and destroyed nearly every book in the store. By Christmastime, the bank threatens to pull the lease on The Bridge and is about to take the Bartons’ house as well. Despondent, Charlie considers ending his life. And in the face of tragedy, miracles begin to unfold.
This reading group guide forThe Bridgeincludes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Karen Kingsbury. 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.
Molly Allen lives in Portland, but her heart is in Franklin, Tennessee—where she walked away from Ryan Kelly, a man she cannot forget. Now, Ryan and Molly’s favorite bookstore is in trouble. For thirty years, Charlie and Donna Barton have run The Bridge, providing the people of Franklin, Tennessee with coffee, conversation, and shelves of good books. But when a flood tears through Franklin, destroying every book in The Bridge, the bank threatens to pull the lease on the store and claim the Barton’s house. Despondent, Charlie considers ending his life. And in the face of tragedy, miracles unfold.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. The Bridge is told from multiple points of view in alternating chapters, allowing readers to hear from Molly, Ryan, Charlie, and Donna. How might the story be different if The Bridge was only told from by Molly’s perspective? Or from Charlie’s? Were you drawn to any one, particular character’s story?
2. Molly spends every Black Friday watching Ryan’s video, but she refuses to check his profile on Facebook or ask mutual friends about what he is doing. What does this tell you about her character? Why do you think she avoids learning more about Ryan, even though she still thinks of him?
3. In Chapter One, Molly regrets not telling Ryan that she loved him—acknowledging, “Like Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind, she should’ve said something.” (pg. 25) Yet Ryan also failed to tell Molly how he felt about her. What do you think holds each character back from revealing their true feelings? Do you have any similar regrets in your own life?
4. Charlie occasionally shares scripture with his customers, in particular Deuteronomy 20:1, which reads: “When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, will be with you.” (pg. 33) Why do you think this passage in particular resonates with Charlie? How does this passage relate to the narrative as a whole?
5. What does The Bridge represent to each character? Do you think it is fair of Donna to urge Charlie to get another job?
6. Discuss Molly’s favorite book — Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Why is she so drawn to this particular novel? Does Ryan have the same connection with the novel as Molly does? What role does this classic piece of literature play in their relationship’s history? Have you ever read Jane Eyre?
7. When Charlie’s loan application is rejected a second time, he thinks Donna might be better off without him. Were you surprised by Charlie’s suicidal thoughts?
8. Although they are largely absent, father figures play an important role in the novel. How might Charlie and Molly’s lives have been different if their parents were supportive?
9. When Charlie is in a coma, Donna reads him messages from hundreds of customers about how much The Bridge meant to them. She believes Charlie can hear her and finds her faith restored. Do you believe Charlie understands? Does it matter if he hears, given the power the messages have for Donna?
10. Both Molly and Ryan are guilty of hiding the truth, with Molly’s fake wedding ring and Ryan hiding her father’s call. What do you think would have happened differently if they had both been more honest with each other? Do you think they would be the same people had they started a relationship in college? Would Molly have her foundation, and Ryan his music?
11. Why doesn’t Molly want Charlie and Donna to know she bought The Bridge? Why does she make sure Ryan knows the truth?
12. Ultimately Molly and Ryan “thank the God of second chances.” (pg. 182) Yet, they are hardly the only characters offered another chance in the novel. How does this theme play a larger role in the narrative? Who else gets a second chance? Reflect on your own experience. When have you encountered a second chance?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Arrange a visit to a local bookstore in your community and introduce your book club to the staff and owner. Take a moment to ask how they got into the bookselling business, why they choose to work in a bookstore, and ask for any new reading recommendations!
2. Charlie remembers reading Treasure Island in the library after school, while Molly remembers reading passages of Jane Eyre aloud. Have each member in your book club pick a book that has a specific memory tied to the reading experience. Where were you when you were reading this book? Why do you think you have a strong memory associated with this specific book? Has this book played a meaningful part in your life in anyway? Share and discuss your responses with your book club members!
3. Organize a drive with your book club members to collect used books to donate a school or a library in your community or to a larger charity organization.
4. The power of prayer plays a crucial role in The Bridge. Visit www.KarenKingsbury.com to become a part of Karen Kingsbury’s own prayer team. Read other reader’s prayer requests and submit your own.
A Conversation with Karen Kingsbury
Is there a certain place in your life that carries as much significance as The Bridge does for Molly and Ryan?
For me, certain beaches have that draw. I grew up in Los Angeles and once I could drive, nearly every summer day I made my way to the beach. I did a lot of dreaming and journaling at Zuma Beach, Malibu Beach, and Will Rogers State Beach … moments of sitting at empty lifeguard stations and staring out to sea, wondering what God had for my future and imagining the novels I wanted to write some day. I would have loved a place like The Bridge.
The Bridge is set in Franklin, Tennessee, near where you live in Nashville, which experienced devastating floods in 2010. Is this novel based on a particular store?
No, The Bridge is an imaginary store. I can see it in my mind, though, and sometimes when I drive down Franklin’s Main Street, I’ll glance down 4th and think, That’s where it is, The Bridge, that’s where it would be right now if it existed.
When readers first meet Charlie he is waiting for “whispered words of hope or gentle reminders of inspiring Scripture” (pg. 26), but feels like no one is there. Have you ever had your faith tested like Charlie?
Yes, I have had times when it feels that the whisper of God is far from me. But always it’s because I’ve allowed something in my life to stand in the way of my faith. Our choices draw us closer to God or take us further from Him. When I align my daily decisions with His will – even in practical areas of time usage or helping others – I can hear Him more clearly. Funny, but at times that have been the most desperate in my life, I have always felt close to God. He becomes everything to me in a season of great pain or a season of great triumph. I think my goal is that I would live in that closeness always, in the in-between times.
Charlie quotes Deuteronomy 20:1 when thinking about his troubles with The Bridge. Do you have a favorite piece of Scripture?
One of my favorite Bible verses is Jeremiah 29:11, which says, “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, to give you a hope and a future and not to harm you.” I love this because it confirms that God’s plans for my life are good. If I maintain a relationship with the Creator of the Universe, then I can be certain He will bring good and hope out of the circumstances of my life. He’s got a good plan for my life – even when I can’t see it. That’s very encouraging and something I try to pass on to my reader friends as often as I can.
Donna originally wants Charlie to contemplate a different career. Have you considered being anything other than a writer?
This makes me smile. Yes, I considered being a lawyer at one point. I love debate and fighting for righteousness. I would’ve been a prosecuting attorney, for sure. I had been writing since I was five years old, and by the time I was in my second year of college I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a writer. The dream of writing novels seemed hazy at best. So I began pursuing a law degree. I took a basic journalism class in lieu of English. An easy A, I figured. After we submitted our first story, the professor made an announcement to the entire auditorium-sized class. “Karen Kingsbury, I need to see you when the hour’s finished.” I couldn’t believe it. How could I have messed up so badly, so quickly? When the class was over I walked to the front and this veteran journalism teacher looked me straight in the eye. “Two things,” his voice was sandpaper and rusty nails. “Yes, sir,” I blinked, not sure what was coming. “First,” he stared at me over the tops of his small wire glasses, “you will never, ever stop writing. And second, I want you to report at the newspaper office tomorrow morning. You’re on staff.” Simple words. Brief sentences. But something about that moment turned everything around. I reported for work the next morning and began writing for the college paper. I never considered a law degree again, never looked back. The dream of being a novelist was reborn, and I haven’t stopped writing since.
You and Charlie share a belief in the life-changing abilities of books. How has reading and writing books changed your life?
Fiction slips its message on stocking feet through the back door of the heart. Nonfiction books are direct in their message, intentional in their purpose. Those books have at times made an impact, but always in an area I was hoping would be impacted. Fiction is different. It sets out to entertain us. We pick up a novel to escape or tag along on a journey we might not have otherwise had. But when a novel contains a spiritual message, the journey becomes personal. We find our lives changed, our hearts forever affected because we had no defenses up. The backdoor was open and before we know it, a truth has crept into us that will make us better mothers and fathers, better parents, better friends. Better people. We walk away stronger in our faith, stronger in our determination to do right and change the world for the better. It’s very powerful, and yes, I am changed both by what I write and what I read.
Is there one specific novel that speaks to you like Jane Eyre does to Molly?
I’d say Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol. I never tire of the use of language, the brilliance of word choice and the carefully crafted storytelling. I love his subtle use of sarcasm, and I’m crazy about the plot. The idea that we might find ourselves stuck in our ways and cold to the beauty around us. But if we are listening, we can learn much from our past, our present … and the possibilities that lie in the future. I love that Scrooge has a second chance to live. The theme of redemption and second chances resonates through many of my books, and it will always draw me. I think it is in the idea of a second chance that we find hope. For as humans, we will fail. The key to winning at life, is the ability to get back up. The belief that hope and redemption await all people who believe.
When Donna and Charlie aren’t able to have children of their own, they create a family at The Bridge. How do you define family?
We adopted three kids from Haiti in 2001, and that helped solidify a way that we already believed – A family is made up of the people who surround the dinner table. We are brought together by a common faith and love, a common set of events and circumstances and beliefs. Family is about loving people, and receiving love from them in return. When we invest in the lives of people around us, we are creating family. There are many ways to see this happen. Although the people who share our last name and our heritage are certainly an important aspect of family, it gives us hope that we never need to be alone. We can join a church or involve ourselves in an outreach or ministry and find the family we’re looking for.
Both Molly and Ryan are musicians and you have released a CD called “Songs that Inspire Karen Kingsbury.” How has music influenced your life, especially your writing?
There is no way to overestimate the impact of music on my writing and in my life. I am moved by music, and the stories in my heart are stirred to life by a melody or a lyric. I literally create a playlist of songs for every book I write. I listen to it on repeat throughout the writing, like the soundtrack of a movie. This works for me, probably because I see my books like a movie in my head. Without music, I’m not sure what I’d see. I believe music is a gift from God, another way to lower the walls and work through the layers so that we might live – even for a short while – in the deepest places of our souls.
Given that you have written more than fifty novels, do you ever find yourself struggling for inspiration?
Another one that makes me laugh. No. No struggle for inspiration. I’m very right-brained, very emotional. I see tenderness and heartache, triumph and beauty every day, in every situation. I’m constantly soaking in the emotions and moments around me, and the ideas and storylines, characters and conflicts in my heart are like the planes circling O’Hare Airport in Chicago. It’ll never be a matter of stories for me, but a matter of time. I love being a wife and a mother, and along the way as I’ve written those novels, I’ve always put my family first. I was there for the first steps, the first day of Kindergarten, and the first homerun. I attended the dance and voice recitals, front row, and I have thrown more birthday parties than I could begin to count. My struggle will never be inspiration, but in finding time to write, when I’m so absolutely in love with real life.
Karen Kingsbury, #1 New York Times bestselling novelist, is America’s favorite inspirational storyteller, with more than twenty-five million copies of her award-winning books in print. Her last dozen titles have topped bestseller lists and many of her novels are under development as major motion pictures. Her Baxter Family books are being developed into a TV series slated to debut fall 2019. Karen is also an adjunct professor of writing at Liberty University. She and her husband, Donald, live in Tennessee near four of their adult children.