Her novel Say Amen, Again won the NAACP Image Award, proving that ReShonda Tate Billingsley’s storytelling “scores a direct hit” (Publishers Weekly), delighting and inspiring with powerful, soul-searching situations and unforgettable characters.
How far will you go to save someone you love and trust when they’ve kept a dangerous secret for years? That’s the question facing Lance Kingston, a successful Houston magazine executive whose recent marriage to beautiful, high-powered attorney Tia Jiles seemed to promise a bright future for both of them. But under the surface, a fierce and frightening storm was brewing. That’s because Tia never revealed to Lance what she and her family have known since Tia was seventeen—she has an illness that takes over her mind, transforming her into a raging, violent woman hell-bent on destruction. Bipolar disorder. Schizophrenia. Or crazy, as Lance’s grandmother continually reminds him. “Crazy leaves clues,” she told him point-blank, and perhaps Lance should have listened. Tia’s mother tries to pray the problem away . . . and Tia’s doctors can’t help her if she won’t do what they advise. Now there’s more than their marriage and Tia’s survival at stake: Tia is pregnant, and Lance will stop at nothing to keep his troubled wife and unborn daughter safe. But at what price?
This reading group guide forThe Secret She Keptincludes 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.
Magazine editor Lance Kingston thinks he’s found the perfect woman in Tia Jiles—a beautiful and philanthropic lawyer on her way to making partner. After a whirlwind courtship, Lance ignores his family’s warnings and marries Tia—but after the wedding, her manic behavior clues Lance in to a serious secret she’s been hiding. With in-laws who do more harm than good and stubborn resistance from Tia, Lance urges his wife to seek medical attention. But ups-and-downs in her career, plus an unexpected pregnancy, make Tia even more unstable. As he navigates through her illness, Lance faces life-altering decisions as he tries to help his wife when she refuses to help herself.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. Lance’s grandmother admonishes, “Crazy leaves clues.” Before they were married, what clues did Lance ignore about Tia and her behavior?
2. Uncle Leo and Virginia disagree on whether Tia should be honest with Lance. Discuss how each person pulls Tia in a different direction. In your opinion, whose advice should she have listened to? How does Tia let the various people in her life affect her day-to-day decisions?
3. Discuss how Lance’s sense of abandonment by his father influences his dedication to Tia. How does his strong sense of commitment both help and hinder him?
4. Tia comes from a family with a history of mental illness, but also one that looks down upon asking for help. In what ways does her family history affect her decisions?
5. Discuss Tia’s reluctance to take medication. What factors have influenced her fear of being dependent on prescription drugs?
6. Discuss how the many stressful changes in Tia’s life—including marriage, moving, career, and pregnancy—affect her bipolar disorder. Do you think there was anything she could have changed in her lifestyle in order to minimize the stress?
7. Tia and Lance both face temptations that threaten to lead them astray. What were each of their biggest temptations, and what did it teach them?
8. Discuss the role of medical professionals in handling Tia’s illness. What could Dr. Monroe have done to encourage her to take her medication, and how should Tia have taken better control of her own health? What do you think was the biggest mistake or oversight in Tia’s treatment?
9. Tia is afraid to tell people about her bipolar disorder after the negative reactions of her ex-boyfriends and Lucinda. Do you think Tia saw these situations differently than they really were? Are there instances throughout The Secret She Kept where you think Tia had an altered perspective of reality?
10. Tia experiences a string of violent episodes. How could she and those around her have better handled her spells? Do you think the outcome would have been any different? Why or why not?
11. Tia’s pregnancy was her biggest challenge in dealing with her bipolar disorder. Discuss how baby Lauren may turn out to be Tia’s saving grace in learning to manage bipolar disorder.
12. Do you feel that Lance and Tia belong together? Is Lance better off with his wife, or should he have left earlier on for someone like Crystal? Discuss where you see these characters headed.
13. What do you think was the strongest take-away or message in The Secret She Kept?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), over 10 million people in America have bipolar disorder. Visit www.nami.org to learn more about bipolar disorder. If you or someone in your book club know someone with bipolar disorder, share some of the challenges that person faces and ways loved ones can help.
2. Uncle Leo quotes from the Bible to encourage Tia to tell Lance the truth. Have a Bible on hand and give all participants the opportunity to share their favorite scripture passage, prayer, or personal motto.
3. Virgina believes in the power of prayer over medication— whether or not you agree with her philosophy, discuss a time in your life when you felt that prayer was the only answer. How did it see you through a tough time?
4. ReShonda Tate Billingsley often writes about female characters. If you’ve read any of her other books, compare her previous characters to Lance—how does centering the story around a male character’s point of view change the reading experience?
ReShonda Tate Billingsley’s #1 nationally bestselling novels include Let the Church Say Amen, I Know I’ve Been Changed, and Say Amen, Again, winner of the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work. Her collaboration with Victoria Christopher Murray has produced four hit novels, Sinners & Saints, Friends & Foes, A Blessing & a Curse, and Fortune & Fame. BET released a movie in 2013 based on ReShonda’s book Let the Church Say Amen in which she had a minor role. She also had a role in the made-for-TV movie The Secret She Kept based on her book of the same title. Visit ReShondaTateBillingsley.com, meet the author on Facebook at ReShondaTateBillingsley, or follow her on Twitter @ReShondaT.