Reading Group Guide for Adelaide Piper

1. Adelaide is a risk-taker, a pot-stirrer, and one determined debutante poetess. She’s interested in justice almost to a fault, but she has a tender side that sympathizes with her peers and their mutual struggles. In what ways do Adelaide’s passionate attempts to “force things back to where they belong” and to “scratch the itch of her soul”(p. 34) contribute to her sufferings and her occasional loss of control throughout the novel?

2. Consider the “itch of your soul” or to put it another way – the yearning in your heart for a deeper meaning. How do you attempt to satisfy this desire?

3. What does Adelaide’s poetry mean to her? How are her poems used during the course of the story to underscore the arc of her character’s development?

4. Adelaide muses that there are two sides to Williamstown: When she looks out over her crab dock she sees a subtropical Eden of converging rivers, rice fields and barrier islands, but when she glances back over her house and toward the center of town, she sees the two fingers of smoke blowing smog into the air. In what ways are there two sides to Nathaniel Buxton University? Do you think the underbelly of college life is accurately depicted in this novel?

5. Consider the fraternity hazing incident and the fate of Brother Benton and Peter Carpenter. Discuss how one choice during youth can have a dramatic impact on the rest of one’s life?

6. Trace Adelaide’s response to her rape. What does this tragic event do to her sense of self? How does Adelaide feel about Devon Hunt? Do you think that her confrontation with him at the end of the novel will further her recovery process? Why or why not?

7. Discuss the doubts that Adelaide faces before her conversion. Can you empathize with her struggles in regards to the authenticity of Christianity? In what ways did the following events contribute to her spiritual awakening and subsequent conversion: the HIV test, the trip to Harvest Time Church, Juliabelle’s incantation and the tonic from Huger Creek, the conversations with C.S. Lewis, Ruthie’s abortion.

8. Why does Adelaide consider the debutante season a charade? How do the generation gaps between her grandmother and her mother contribute to her belief that making one’s debut is an outdated ritual? After an unexpected turn of events on the night of the debutante ball, how does Adelaide’s formal presentation to Williamstown society become linked to her new-found faith?

9. After the initial “honeymoon with her Maker” following her conversion, why does Adelaide’s faith begin to wane? Does she make a conscious decision to distance herself from God?

10. Consider the personal struggles of the following characters: Zane Piper, Greta Piper, Dizzy, Ruthie, Jif, Harriet, Tobias. What does this novel say about the effect of loss on the nuclear family?

11. Do you think Adelaide and her friends are any closer to finding the answers to the questions that she posed in her valedictorian speech? Who am I? And where am I going?

12. In the final poem, Second Breath, what does Adelaide suggest one must do before starting over?

13. Picture Adelaide ten years from the end of the story. What do you envision her adult life looking like?

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