This reading group guide forExorsistah: X Returnsincludes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Claudia Mair Burney. 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.
While most teenagers were busy updating their Facebook statuses and picking out prom dresses, this Exorsistah became a pro at fighting evil and exorcising demons. Now she faces the two greatest challenges of her young life: finding her missing Mama and trying not to fall in love with Francis, even though she can’t help but be head over Prada stilettos for him. But she’ll need the strength of his love if she’s ever going to find out what happened to Mama after she was discharged from a mental hospital years earlier. Could it be the demons inside her finally won the battle?
Of course, she’ll need more than the support of her beloved Francis to find her mother. A string of fathers, her brother Michael, a team of fellow teenage Christians and a chain-smoking hermit who goes by Jane Doe all help her on her mission. Days in various hotels and hospitality houses, months in Saint Benedict’s monastery and lifetime of battling evil spirits have pointed her in the right direction toward mama, and also toward discovering the woman she is becoming, the woman she is meant to be. All Emme can pray for is that she has enough faith and power to face what she knows lies ahead . . . with enough left over to fight the surprises that jump out along the path.
TOPICS AND QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What is the difference between those who have “the gift,” like Emme, and those who are simply “sensitives,” like Francis? What can Emme see or feel that Francis can’t?
2. Emme has a memory of some advice her mother gave her during a picnic when she was young, before her mother got sick (page 23). She told her, “We have many friends in heaven and they live to help us.” How did that advice prove true throughout the book?
3. The concept of “True North” is mentioned a few times in the first part of the book. What does this mean and what do you think Emme’s “True North” is? What do you think her destiny is?
4. It’s clear that this book has some social messages about the Catholic Worker movement and Christian charities. What do you think Claudia Mair Burney’s opinion is about the church’s role in helping those in need?
5. Why does Emme resist an official relationship with Francis, a man who truly loves her? Does this reflect deeper trust issues?
6. Discuss Jane Doe’s role in the book. Do you see her as a God-like figure?
7. How does Emme’s history mirror Jane Doe’s? What do the two have in common?
8. Ty sees and feels Angels, rarely Demons. Why do you think this is? Why can Emme see both?
9. How does Emme relate to Saint Maria Goretti? What characteristics do they share and how does the icon of the Saint Maria Goretti that Emme takes with her from the house guide and protect her on her journey? How does Goretti inspire the title of this book?
10. How did the solidification of Emme and Francis’s love for each other—when they became officially engaged—give Emme the power she needed to fight Asmodeus? How did their relationship change after their engagement?
11. How did Father Miguel’s death affect the team? How will this change each member? Consider Doctors Jaynes and Black and what their new paths might be.
12. How was Francis’s life affected by the fact that he had to hide the truth about being Father Miguel’s biological son? How did father Miguel’s death affect him?
13. Could many of Emme’s problems before the final exorcism and battle in the All Souls Church been avoided had she read the book of the Tobit like she kept meaning to? Why didn’t she read the book?
14. Ms. Evette states that she is a star thrower (page 172), a person who strolls the beach and tosses beached starfish back into the ocean so they will live. Do you think Emme is a star thrower or a star that needs to be thrown?
ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
1. Many churches welcome small social gatherings when there is no service or the church isn’t being used. Hold a club meeting there and include the Christian/religious elements of Exorsistah.
2. Ty, Kosha, Ndidi, Brother, Brother Azariah, Francis, and Emme are a very diverse, evil-fighting team. Discuss similar teams, either fictional or real. How are they similar? Different? Have you ever known a butt-kicking, confident, purposeful teenage girl like Emme? Who does she remind you of?
3. Before discussing the book, go around and have everyone state their thoughts on the supernatural world. Do you believe in angels and spiritual demons? Do you believe there are things in the spiritual world that can’t be explained with logic? Have you ever experienced something that you can’t explain?
4. Hold a meeting at night, using only candles for lighting. Be sure to focus in particular on the end scene involving Asmodeus and the battle in the All Souls Church.
5. Share your experiences with a priest, pastor, or some other religious figure who has gone above and beyond his/her religious duties in inspiring or influencing your life.
A CONVERSATION WITH CLAUDIA MAIR BURNEY
Emme Vaughn is a strong, confident, humorous, tenacious teenager. Was her character at all inspired by you as a young girl? Or perhaps one of your daughters?
Her name is my actual grandmother’s, and she was a tough lady, but Emme is really inspired by so many girls who have to hide their softness because life has been unkind to them. I wrote her to be for the ghetto sistahs who only get books written about them that involve drugs, sex, and craziness of a different kind.
Father Miguel’s advice to Emme to “watch” is an important theme throughout the second half of the book. Why is it important to “watch” and is that advice that you live by personally?
It’s important because Jesus said to do it. In fact, when I was a teen that was the benediction before we left church. It’s ingrained in me. The enemy is busy. We need to be diligent. Not paranoid! You don’t want to see a demon behind every bush, but watch and pray is never a bad idea.
At only 18, Emme is very young when she gets engaged to Francis. Have her unique experiences forced her to grow up much faster than other young women her age?
Emme’s experiences have actually hindered her growth. She bypassed some of the more frivolous aspects of being a teen, but she’s terribly immature in matters of the heart, and she’s selfish. What she needs is the anchor of being loved well to ground her. Francis provides that, when she isn’t running away from him.
How did you come up with the character of the chain-smoking, wise, hermit Jane Doe?
I wanted a character that was unlike any I’d seen in Christian fiction, someone shocking, but undeniably powerful and godly. She reminds me of some of the saints! As for Jane’s name, I thought of homeless people who are mentally ill, and wondered if some of them were oppressed by diabolical forces. These people are throwaways in society, nameless and forgotten, Jane and John Does. The character Jane Doe wanted to remember them, and serve them. That’s why she kept that name, even after she was free and her memory was restored.
Jane Doe tells Emme that her white hair is an indentifying mark (page 216). Why is it important that the kingdom of darkness be able to recognize her? Is this a message to young girls to “stand out” and sort of make their marks in life?
It’s more of a reminder to realize if you are being yourself, authentically whoever God made you to be, you will stand out. Emme didn’t do anything to get the white hair, except what she was meant to do. So, being yourself is how you stand out. And trust me, if you walk with God you’ll be recognized, by team Divine Light and team darkness.
Ms. Evette is an interesting character. How does she make Emme rethink her preconceived notions about race and why is that such an important message for young girls?
Ms. Evette is based on a very dear friend of mine. When I met her she was so much like a “sistah.” I had to examine my ideas about certain behaviors. Were they “black” or “urban”? It was complicated. I finally settled on the behaviors being uniquely “Evette.” We all need to examine our notions about race, because they keep us apart. Emme realized Evette was a product of many factors, her past, the people she left behind, and the people she embraced. Her stereotypes were shattered by Evette.
Have you had any experiences with the supernatural? With demons, angels, or any other evil or good spirit that you couldn’t explain?
Emme’s gifts are not mine, and I’m glad! My sister has a similar gift, however. She has seen demons on several occasions. I’m more like Francis. I feel, good or ill. Both my sister and I have dreams that reveal what we have no earthly way of knowing. I don’t put too much emphasis on those things, because I’ve see people who do get kinda weird. I try to focus on the best gift: love.
It’s clear that you have certain opinions about the church’s responsibility to help those in need and the church often provides basic needs such as food and shelter. Do you see a parallel between homelessness and the need for faith? Are homeless people more likely to be faithful or more in need of faith?
I think homelessness is about a lack of faith, but not so much on the part of the homeless. Jesus told us to remember “the least,” and he including the hungry, homeless, and loveless, even prisoners. We have failed, profoundly, in society and in the Church. I’m trying to line my life up with the words of Jesus. He said when we take care of the least, we take care of Him. In the books I try to sneak in a bit about the people who do that well. We can all use the inspiration.
Can we assume that the third Exorsistah book will revolve around Francis and Emme’s journey to New Orleans to reunite with her mama? What other adventures can we expect Emme to go on in the third book?
Book three opens with Francis and Emme on the road, thirty miles from the Big Easy. Expect a visit from the dead, the emergence of an attractive, mysterious stranger, some surprising connections, and a show down with her evil father. Wedding bells just may ring, too! But you’ve gotta read to find out!
Claudia Mair Burneyis the author of the Amanda Bell Brown Mystery series. The first in the series, Murder, Mayhem, and a Fine Man was released in 2006. She lives in Ann Arbor with her husband, five of their seven children, and a hamster.