This reading group guide for The Life Intended includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. 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.
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Kate Waithman thought she would only have one great love—her perfect husband, Patrick. But when Patrick is tragically killed in a car accident, Kate prepares for a life that is forever incomplete. Twelve years later, Kate has built an impressive career as a music therapist and is finally ready to move on with her fiancée, Dan. Soon after their engagement, however, Kate starts to have startlingly vivid dreams about the life she would have had if Patrick survived. Even more troubling, some of the details in these dreams begin to translate to real life. There is only one piece of the puzzle that doesn’t fit: a daughter, Hannah, a prodigious piano player who is hard of hearing.
As Kate struggles to decipher her dreams, she finds herself wondering if her dream life is better than her reality. When she enrolls in a sign language class, she finds herself drifting farther away from Dan and closer to her charming instructor, Andrew. Finally, Kate realizes that she needs to make an impossible choice: cling to a lost past, or embrace a new future. The Life Intended
is a captivating novel about the struggle to let go when our memories refuse to be forgotten. Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Before his death, Kate and Patrick share a special phrase, “I knew before I met you . . . that I was meant to be yours.” How do you think this theme continues to echo throughout the novel as Kate struggles to understand her destiny?
2. Discuss how karma figures into Kate’s story. Patrick superstitiously collects silver coins and then returns them to the universe when experiencing a stroke of good fortune. How do Kate’s feelings about this habit change? What does it mean when she finally relinquishes Patrick’s last coin?
3. When Dan proposes, Kate is besieged by memories of Patrick that are still fresh even twelve years after his death. Discuss how familiar relationship milestones can trigger the emotion of past loves. Do you sympathize with Kate in this moment? Or should she focus on moving on?
4. As Kate is swept into the past, she must also contend with a certainty about her future—her infertility. Discuss her regret upon realizing that she can’t ever get pregnant. How does she react to Dan’s complete indifference to this news?
5. When Kate wakes up to a dream version of Patrick, she is confronted by a world that is strangely familiar yet full of differences from the life she knew with him. She meets Hannah, a hard of hearing girl who can’t possibly be her biological daughter; finds that her sister, Susan, has a happy life in San Diego; and realizes that she no longer works with children. What kind of trade-offs have occurred in a world where Patrick is still alive?
6. Kate relies heavily on Gina, a friend who also lost her first husband, for emotional support. Are Kate and Gina alike in the way they handle grief? How are they different?
7. As both a music therapist and a volunteer for St. Anne’s, Kate consistently witnesses the healing effects that music can have on struggling children. But not all of her students are easy to reach. Who do you think is the toughest shell to crack, and why? How does Kate earn their trust?
8. As Kate’s dreams become more frequent, her experiences with Andrew are connecting her in new ways to the “real world.” Why do you think she is so drawn to him? What about their pasts bring them together now?
9. On the day she goes wedding dress shopping, Kate is haunted by the lace gown she wore when she first walked down the aisle. She’s also certain that she sees her dream daughter, Hannah, pass by on the street. Discuss the fine line between being stuck in the past and letting that past inform your future. What is Kate’s gut trying to tell her here?
10. When Dan says his friend Stephen has accidentally gotten a girl pregnant, Kate feels very conflicted. Discuss this moment in the novel and how it relates to her confession to Joan about wanting to be a mother. How does this moment influence Kate’s decision to call off her wedding to Dan?
11. Kate tells Dan that “sometimes the greatest things in life come from the greatest challenges.” (pg. 134) What do you think Kate’s greatest challenge was at the beginning of the novel? What do you think it is by the end?
12. During her dreams, Kate realizes that while some parts of her life are drastically different, her essential characteristics and tastes remain the same. How much do you think a person can change over their lifetime? And which aspects of an individual personality are more likely to stay constant?
13. Kate’s mother reminds her that if she is not careful, “regret will grow in spaces you don't even know are there." (pg. 165) What do you think she means by this? Do you think Kate finds a way to take her advice?
14. Although Kate does not end up adopting Allie, she is cleared as a foster parent and finds her way to Patrick’s lost daughter. She also realizes that Andrew might never have made such an impact at St. Anne’s if he hadn’t lost his brother at a young age. While the novel doesn’t necessarily imply that life is fair, it does suggest that there is a balance and order to things. Do you agree with this outlook? Why or why not? Enhance Your Book Club
1. In her dream world, Kate and Hannah like starting the day by making their favorite blueberry and peanut butter pancakes. Grab some fresh blueberries and start your book club by coming up with your own special recipe for this delicious dish.
2. During her music sessions at St. Anne’s, Kate asks Allie to come up with her own lyrics to a favorite song. Share your favorite song with the book club and discuss how you would adjust the lyrics to describe your life. After she finished writing the novel, Kristin Harmel was inspired to write the lyrics to a song called “The Life Intended.” Listen to it and find out more here: http://kristinharmel.com/the-song/. (Also available on iTunes.) How do you think the lyrics of the song relate to the novel?
3. In honor of Allie and Hannah, listen to Beethoven’s The Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op.111, which he wrote while deaf. Discuss what you hear and how it changes your definition of music.
4. Patrick’s family has a tradition of “paying forward” good luck with silver dollars. How do you “pay it forward” in your own life? Discuss a family tradition you have, or start one of your own!