Reading Group Guide
1. Compare Nell’s personal world in 1969 to what was going on in the news in that year.
2. Why did Nell’s mother allow her to be bused? Why did she change her mind?
3. Compare Nell’s experience with Sally’s experience at Stonewall. What made them different?
4. Brown vs. Board of Education ruled in 1954 that segregation in schools was unconstitutional. How did Richmond’s schools remain mostly segregated for more than 15 years past that ruling?
5. Nell’s mother thought that changing schools was the right thing to do. What is a parent’s responsibility when it comes between what a child wants and what a parent believes is best for them?
6. What steps would Margorie Randolph need to take to understand her daughter and the changing cultural climate? What if those steps conflict with the mores of her family and faith indoctrination?
7. How are the Randolph family patterns of communication a result of their place in time and culture? In what ways, if any, would they be different today?
8. What is it about Nell that makes her more comfortable with her Black friends than with her childhood friend, Sally?
9. Nell and Fergy become unlikely friends. What is it that makes their relationship authentic? Could they have been a successful couple?
10. In what ways did Nell protect Donald? Could she have supported him in a different way that would have brought the family together?
11. There are scenes in the novel where Nell is comfortable with her own race, even when she is with her Black friends, and there are scenes where she feels the discomfort of her race. What makes the difference for her?
12. Mr. Randolph seems to struggle with the race issue all through the novel. How does he reconcile his beliefs with his actions? Are there actions he could have taken that he didn’t? And if so, what?
13. Do you think Nell’s college choice is a brave decision or an escape?
14. Is Father Richard a character that unites the community or one who divides it? How? What do you think of his involvement with Donald’s decision?
15. What role did religion play in the book, and how has its influence changed since 1969?
16. Nell’s relationship with her mother and her brother is distanced at the end of the book. Was that inevitable or could she have done something differently?
17. Do you think Nell will return to Richmond? If she did, what could she do to follow Fergy’s advice and “change things from the inside out?”