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1. Gus Hartmann is described as being an atheist who is more interested in political power than the religion he uses as a tool to achieve his family's goals. But when his beloved nephew, Sonny, is left in a persistent vegetative state from a horrible accident, he prays fervently to God. What does this tell you about Gus's character? So many people who are otherwise nonreligious find themselves praying in dire circumstances. Do you think their prayers are hypocritical or somehow less sincere? If you believe in God, do you think he listens even to the prayers of nonbelievers?
2. Jamie has to weigh "mortgaging her future" to pay off her debt and finish her education versus mortgaging her body and a year of her life to the Hartmanns. What would you do in her situation? What is a year of your life worth to you? Can a price be put on an unborn child or any human being for that matter?
3. On the one hand, Jamie's decision to become a surrogate is altruistic: she wants to help a couple that cannot successfully conceive on their own. How do you feel about the other hand: the idea of pregnancy as a business arrangement?
4. Does Jamie's virginity make you more or less sympathetic to her decision to become a surrogate? Do you think she has less of an understanding of what she's about to do because of her inexperience with sex and love? How does a healthy sex life affect the relationship a woman has with her own body?
5. Amanda Hartmann and her followers are often described in terms reminiscent of dictators and cult leaders. How much do you think her apparently sincere belief in God or her "saintly" actions differentiate her from other charismatic leaders of more overtly insidious persuasions? Can you pinpoint the moment when Amanda crosses the line from following the word of God to using religion as an excuse to satisfy her own desires? Do you think she is ever truly aware of the depravity of what she is doing?
6. The novel carries some heavy political implications. Do you relate any of the people or situations in the book to current conditions in the United States?
7. How do you feel about the statement that "it's easy to be 'good' when you have someone do your dirty work for you"? How guilty is Amanda with regard to the crimes her brother commits to further their joint agendas?
8. Bentley Abernathy remarks that "if there is such a thing as redemption, Gus Hartmann earned it" when he sacrificed his life to save Jamie's. Do you agree with this statement? How much wrong can be righted with one truly sacrificial act? What is it, ultimately, that transforms Gus?
9. Jamie and Joe say they want to raise their family outside of the United States until they "know that sort of abuse of power can no longer happen in this country again." Do you think such abuses are happening now? Do you agree that leaving the country is the best course of action, or do you think people should stay and fight such egregious constitutional violations? Enhance Your Book Club Experience
1. In the biography on her Web site, the author shares that she meets once a month with friends to discuss books. Spend some time browsing Judith Henry Wall's Web site (www.judithhenrywall.com).
2. As a supplement to your discussion about Amanda Hartmann and religions versus cults, try doing a little research to find out how others are debating the issue. These sites will get you started: