Ten years ago, Nicole Hunter left her troubled home behind her, unable to cope with the demands of a life with her disabled sister, Jenny. Though her search for happiness—both in career and in love—has fallen short of her dreams, Nicole pretends that all is well. Then a shattering event turns her world upside down, and suddenly, she is back in her hometown, caring for her pregnant sister and trying to heal her embattled relationship with her mother.
Reunited with her family and forced to confront the guilt that haunts her, Nicole finally has the chance to be the sister she always wished she’d been. And when she is faced with the most difficult choice of her life, Nicole rediscovers the beauty of sisterhood—and receives a special gift that will change her life forever.
This reading group guide forThe Language of Sistersincludes 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.
Nicole has simplified her life as much as possible. She has an uncomplicated job and a stress-free love life. Everything is more or less manageable until she gets a call from her mother to come home. As soon as Nicole’s plane lands in her home town of Seattle, everything begins to unravel. Her severely handicapped sister has been raped in her residential institution, and is five months pregnant. Racked with guilt and frustration, Nicole takes Jenny out of the institution and moves into her mother’s house to care for her. The emotional and physical strain of caring for a severely handicapped person threaten to defeat Nicole, but the warmth of an old friend and excitement of a new love interest buoy her spirits. Nicole must decide what she wants out of life: the quiet, structured existence she’d built for herself in San Francisco, or the messy, joyful unknown of returning to her roots in Seattle.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Nicole was trained as a therapist but she gave up her practice to become a baker. As a baker, she and her business partner rarely spoke. Conversely, as a therapist speaking was a primary job function. Compare and contrast these two occupations. What does Nicole’s career path tell you about her character?
2. Returning home after so long brings up complicated feelings for Nicole, yet she barely hesitates when her mother calls with the news about Jenny. Why? Have you ever been placed in a similar situation where an emergency made you reconsider your priorities?
3. Nicole seems to hear Jenny asking for help in her time of need. Do you believe this unspoken communication can exist between people? Have you ever felt this way with a sibling, partner, or close friend?
4. Discuss Nicole’s relationship with her mother. How have they both hurt one another? How do you repair this kind of damage in a relationship?
5. Caring for a severely handicapped person like Jenny is mentally and physically exhausting. How did Nicole find the strength to get through each day?
6. How could it have helped Joyce, Nicole and Jenny’s mom, to be able to name the disease that was impacting Jenny? What kind of closure could this diagnosis offer?
7. Caring for a severely handicapped child was too much for Nicole and Jenny’s father. How did he deal with the emotional and logistical burden? Did you feel any sympathy for him? Why or why not?
8. Nicole misunderstood what happened between her father and sister after his fits of anger. What factors played a part in Nicole’s perception of the situation?
9. Do you think the Wellman Institute was responsible for Jenny’s rape and resulting pregnancy? How can a large institution prevent such violations from occurring? Did the settlement seem fair?
10. The decision to keep Jenny’s baby was complicated. What would you have done if you were in Joyce’s place?
11. Discuss Nova and Jenny’s friendship. Why is Nicole so drawn to Nova’s personality and family?
12. Compare and contrast Garret and Shane. What is Nicole drawn to in each man? Who do you think is the best match for her?
13. Several circumstances aligned to support Nicole’s decision to stay in Seattle and adopt Jenny’s baby: her friendship with Nova, her attraction to Garret, and her mended relationship with her mother. If one of these elements had been missing, how could her choice have been different?
14. Nicole names Jenny’s baby Kyah. The name means “forgiveness.” Who needed to be forgiven in The Language of Sisters? Who needed to forgive? How does the theme of forgiveness play a larger role in the novel?