This reading group guide for Vow Unbroken includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Caryl McAdoo. 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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Widowed and a single parent to her daughter and nephew, Susannah Baylor refused to be swindled out of a fair price for her cotton harvest. She also refused to entertain the thought of marrying another man without the blessing of her estranged father. With the wise counsel of her best friend and re- lentless grit and determination, Susannah embarks on a journey across dangerous terrain that transforms her heart and changes her life forever. Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Which character in the story do you identify with or enjoy the most? What were some of the character’s strengths? How did the character change or grow throughout the story? Was there a fatal flaw?
2. As chapter one opens, Susannah Baylor is talking with the man she had made an agreement with to purchase her cotton, and the conversation doesn’t go as she expected. If you had been in her shoes, what would you have done? What words would you use to describe her in this first scene?
3. Why do you think Sue gets so irritated when Henry assumes leadership for deciding where to stop for the day or when to unhitch the animals on the initial leg of their journey on the trace? Have you ever been in a similar situation where you didn’t fully know the best options, but you wanted to maintain control? How did you respond?
4. What role does Blue Dog play in the story? How is the story enriched by his presence? Are you a dog lover?
5. What were the assumptions Sue made about Henry before she knew him? How did her assumptions compare with the reality of her experience with him? What does her experience with Henry reveal about her own heart? Have you ever marginal- ized someone based on hearsay or your own prejudgments?
6. Describe the transformation that happens in Levi through- out the book. What do you think were some of the key factors that affected the change in his attitude and actions? 7. Have you known children like Rebecca Ruth? Describe the ways that she actually sees people and situations more clearly than her mother throughout the story. How is she a picture of Christ?
8. What prompted Susannah Baylor to make her vow? How do you feel about making vows like that? Read Matthew 5:33–37. What does Jesus say about oaths/vows in this passage? What do you think verse 37 means?
9. Sue blamed herself for her husband’s death and for depriving her daughter of her father. What was her reason for blaming herself? If you had the chance to talk with her, what would you say to her about her self-contempt? How was Henry a messenger of the gospel to her?
10. When she started the journey on the trace, what was Sue’s single-minded purpose? How did her determination help and how did it get in the way of progress? Have you ever wanted something so much that you lost sight of every- thing else? What does scripture call that kind of devotion to something or someone other than God?
11. At the Titus Trading Post, Henry spent “a month’s worth of gathering and cleaning seeds” on gifts for Sue and her children. How does his generosity and lavish giving im- pact you? Have you had someone in your life who de- lighted in giving good things to you? Read Ephesians 1:3–14. What do these verses say about God’s giving to us?
12. What qualities do Sue and her father share? What was your impression of her father?
13. In what ways does Henry reflect the image of God through- out the story? Read Genesis 1:27. Who does this passage say God made in his image? What does it mean to be made in God’s image? How does this impact your assumptions and perspective about people who are not Christians?
14. How did Henry describe the impact of “being saved”? What is the difference between salvation and “being a good person”?
15. What was your favorite scene or chapter in the book? Enhance Your Book Club
1. Read Proverbs 31. At your next book club, discuss how your perspective about being a woman compares with the picture painted in Proverbs 31. Discuss the tension of inhab- iting both the strength and tenderness in a woman’s heart. How have you responded to this tension in your life?
2. Read Lost Women of the Bible
by Carolyn Custis James. At your next book club, discuss the first chapter on Eve and how Sue’s character in Vow Unbroken
reflects God’s design for women (ezer).
3. Watch Pride and Prejudice
, the BBC version (5 hours). Discuss the themes of pride and prejudice illustrated throughout the movie and compare and contrast with the same themes in Vow Unbroken
. A Conversation with Caryl McAdoo 1. What was the inspiration for writing Vow Unbroken?
“Caryl,” one of my mentors once said, “pick a genre.” But I never had. Then at a writers’ conference, I met my agent, Mary Sue Seymour, (Can you believe her maiden name was McAdoo?) and she told me that historical Christian romances had a growing readership. Historical . . . hmm. That reminded me of a piece written then read for critique by Marion Butts, a teacher, historian, and colleague at the Red River Writer’s Workshop. He told of yesteryear farmers from this history-rich area forming wagon trains to haul their cotton to market on the Jefferson Trace back in the 1800s.
Sounded like a great story setting and challenging journey. I loved the idea of writing a love story that would glorify God and minister to my readers. So, let’s see—what if my heroine, Susannah Baylor, missed going with her neighbors and had to get her harvest to market by herself? 2. What intrigues you about life in the 1800s on the prairie?
What an exciting era that was in Texas, with plenty of hard work for its inhabitants. Most every aspect of my state his- tory has fascinated me since I visited the Alamo as a little girl. Once I decided to write a historical, I dove into it anew, especially the history of my new home, Red River County, known since the 1800s as the Gateway to Texas.
The simplicity of prairie life and that razor’s edge the early settlers’ lives balanced on are what drew me to the time period. One bad crop, one wrong decision, or any number of natural disasters could wipe them out, and yet they headed west and overcame. I hope my Sue’s determination and grit well represents the spirit of those early pioneers. 3. What character was the most enjoyable to develop and why?
That’s hard because I do love my Henry and young Rebecca—and Levi, too—but if I have to pick, I must say Susannah. I’d never choose to live her life and experience all the horrible obstacles she faced after marrying young and moving west, but I like to think that with God’s help, I would overcome just like she did. I love her faith, her obedience, and how she trusts in the Lord to work everything out no matter how bad things get. And that Blue Dog! Wasn’t he just special? 4. Would you have enjoyed traveling by wagon across the country? Are you a camper?
I would! There’d be no hesitation to climb aboard. I’d jump at the chance so long as my own “Henry,” my husband Ron, went along, and he’d be game for sure! I’d definitely enjoy traveling in a covered wagon. At that slower pace, you can really see the countryside and have the opportunity to meet folks along the way.
I am an adventurer, but not so much a camper at heart. I’m more of a twentieth-century lady, spoiled to life’s luxuries like running water and flushing potties, appliances like stoves and refrigerators, and—especially in Texas— air-conditioning. 5. Who have been your mentors on your journey to be- coming an author?
Oh, this is an easy question. The Lord led me to the DFW Writers Workshop back in the early ’90s. I had always loved English and fancied myself a writer, and joined the group with completed, hand-written Biblical fiction. I learned there that I’d made every mistake possible!
But this awesome group of successful authors took me under their wings and spoon-fed me the craft. Writing creative fiction is a specialty, and without published authors like John McCord, Jack Ballas, and Don Whittington sharing their knowledge and time every week, fifty-two weeks a year; without their patient guidance, I’m not certain I ever would have been published.
God knew just what I needed. 6. What is your strategy on days when you have writer’s block?
Well, pray always, of course. I’ve found that when the writing stops flowing freely, and the story refuses to go forward, I need to crawfish. Travel back to the place where my characters were last comfortable, then let them go where they want to, instead of where I was trying to take them. Works every time. 7. What was the most challenging part of writing this story?
Getting my dear Henry saved. He was such a good man and so confident. Because of his strength and self-assurance, I had to take him to the end of himself before it was believable that he would cry out to God for salvation. I pray that others who are good, moral people of honor and integrity will see themselves in Henry and realize they, too, need a Savior. 8. What kind of books do you enjoy reading for leisure?
If I’m reading, I’m not writing. But when I allow myself the luxury, I enjoy historical fiction, and mostly stick to Christian books to avoid foul language. I hate having to “say” those words in my head! I especially love reading stories set in Israel, so Bodie Thoene is a favorite author of mine. I love all her Zion series and one day hope to personally visit the Holy Lands she takes me to in her stories.
I love reading colleagues’ books, too. Talia Carner’s Jerusalem Maiden
and Ann Everett’s Laid Out
and Candle Lit
are a couple of great examples, although those stories wouldn’t be classified as Christian. When you know the author, it just makes for some special reading. 9. Blue Dog plays a significant role in the story. Are you a dog lover?
I am! When we first moved to Red River County, this dog showed up. We’re rearing four grandsons, and they all begged to keep him. We made him a warm place to sleep, fed him, and named him Franklin Doganor “Roo”sevelt. After about a week, a neighbor came on his four-wheeler and said, “That’s my dog.” “Okay.” The boys were crushed. “We’re sorry. We thought he was a stray.” So the man tried to load him up (he said the dog loved riding the four-wheeler), but Roo wouldn’t get aboard. The owner lifted him onto the ATV and took him home. In no time, Roo came right back. The neighbor came three or four times to retrieve him, and we’d hear Roo barking and howling. Once he came back dragging a chewed-off rope dangling from a new collar.The man finally gave him to us. We offered to pay, but he said no. Roo chose us of his own accord, and that’s who I fashioned Blue Dog after. As a matter of fact, that’s our Roo on the front cover of Vow Unbroken
! How much fun is that?!
Presently, twice a day, we feed five dogs; three medium-to-big outside hounds and two small inside lap puppies. You can add to that three horses, two donkeys, a small herd of Nigerian dwarf dairy goats, several barn cats, and some free-range, egg-laying hens, and Roscoe, their rooster.
I love all animals! I’ve raised hedgehogs and hamsters and love aquariums, too. I told Ron once, that at any gift-giving occasion, he’d always get a gold star if my present was breathing! How easy am I? 10. Vow Unbroken is written very much in the vernacular of the 1800s. How did you prepare yourself to write so clearly in that time period?
Where else to go but the World Wide Web? I absolutely can’t imagine how authors prior to the computer revolution did it. Every time I think of that, I’m reminded of Daniel 12:4, “But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.” What time in history has ever seen such an increase of knowledge as our own? Any bit of information is available right in our homes—even in our cars on our phones! It’s amazing, and I am blessed to write with such resources a mere click away.
My characters’ dialogue and introspection had to sound right, so a part of my research focused on the words and phrases used back then. It proved fascinating to find how so much of their slang had made it through the centuries, and that we’re still saying the same things today. Others fell from grace, and those were fun to bring back to life in Vow Unbroken
And as I’d be writing, if I had a question about a modern word, I’d go to the internet and ask when it came into use. For instance, “okay” was a WWII word, so I had to be very careful not to use it. Even after several edits, I still came across one and changed it to “alright.” Then my copy editor at Howard Books changed that to “all right.” Speaking of Susan, she was awesome as was her attention to detail. She caught several common words used today that slipped by me, words and phrases like “glitch,” “welcher,” and “even keeled,” which all came into popular use after 1832. So I cannot take all the credit that the vernacular in my story puts my readers right into that great past era. I’m thankful for the great help Simon & Schuster’s Howard Books provided to make Vow Unbroken
the best it could be—at every junction! They are totally impressive. 11. Have you ever lived on a farm?
Oh yes! But I guess more a ranch than a farm—although my husband Ron has grown wheat and soybeans on some of the 882 McAdoo acres here in Red River County, Sue’s block in Vow Unbroken
. Country living has always been a desire of our hearts.
Way back in the early ’70s when our children were young, we rented a little farm house between Dallas and Tarrant counties (County Line Road, as a matter of fact) and had horses, a sheep, chickens, dogs, and cats, and a big garden.
Then, before we moved to Northeast Texas in ’08, though a city girl, I still had all the same animals I do now—and even more—at our River Bottom Ranch in Grand Prairie. Irving, our lifelong home, was across the street. God miraculously provided the one hundred thirteen acres in the heart of the DFW Metroplex for us to keep the dozen quarter horses we inherited from my husband’s father.
I still have that website with information about that ranch, and we still lease the land, though I’m a bona fide Red River County–lovin’ lady through and through now. And isn’t it interesting we live on another “county line” road? We’re on the Red River side and Bowie County is across the street. Guess I’m going to need a Word from the Lord to ever move back to a big city. 12. Do you have plans to write another novel?
Why, yes; yes, I do. I have so many stories to share. I’ve written another novel titled Heart Stolen
, set in 1844 with Levi, Sue’s teenage nephew in Vow Unbroken
, as my Texas Ranger hero. He rescues a Red River Valley girl, Sassy, from a band of Comanche and gets her home in time for Aunt Sue and Uncle Henry’s Thanksgiving dinner. And I’m already working on a new story in my Red River Chronicles called Hope Reborn
with all these characters I’ve come to love and a few new ones—including a female New York novelist! But she decides to go to Texas in Chapter One. My stories will always have a Texas setting. Like most Texans, I do love this great Lone Star State! When Beth, my editor, asked the cover designer to produce a logo for Vow, I was so excited and loved “A Lone Star Novel!”
I’m also thinking about other storylines, some contemporary, with entirely different characters. But all these players in my stories become my friends—well, the good guys. And I always want to find out what’s happening with them as time marches on. I hope my readers feel the same way about everyone.