If your reading group is discussing Hand Me Down and you’d like me to join you, all you have to do is ask! In person (within reasonable driving distance) or via Skype, I’m happy to talk with your group and answer any questions you might have about the book or the writing process. Learn more and/or contact me.
Book Club & Reading Group Discussion Guide
Hand Me Down, by Melanie Thorne
(Download Hand Me Down Discussion Guide)
1. What is the significance of the title? What do the characters hand down to each other? What does Liz hand down to Jamie? Linda to her daughters? What legacy did Linda and Tammy’s parents leave to them?
2. What do you think Linda finds appealing about Terrance? Why is she blind to his indiscretions?
3. How does Rachel’s friendship help Liz? Does Rachel truly understand what Liz’s life is like? Do you think that matters, in terms of their friendship?
4. Consider Jamie and Liz’s relationship. How do they handle the trials placed before them differently? What is it about their personalities that makes them confront difficult situations in the way that they do?
5. What role does food play in the novel? What does Tammy’s cooking represent to Liz?
6. Can you understand why Linda prioritizes Terrance above her daughters? Do you think Linda genuinely believes that she’s doing what’s best for them? How does she change over the course of the novel?
7. Consider the way Liz’s dad treats her? Do you think he blames her for his failures in some way? Why? How does he treat Jamie by comparison?
8. How is Tammy and Linda’s relationship similar to Jamie and Liz’s? What do you imagine the reasons behind the similarities are? What’s different about the relationships between the two sets of sisters? Is one bond stronger than the other?
9. Why is Liz uncomfortable and unhappy with Jamie at Deborah’s? Why does Jamie like it there? What does Tammy offer Liz that Deborah doesn’t?
10. What were your impressions of Sam? What is his relationship with Tammy like? Can you understand why Tammy stays with him? Do you think that her relationship with Sam mimics Linda’s relationship with Terrance in any way? Why or why not?
11. What does Tammy’s love mean to Liz? Is Liz surprised somehow to receive it? Why? What is their relationship like? Why doesn’t Linda want Liz to live with Tammy, even though that’s what Liz wants?
12. The last chapter – Liz’s paper – was an addition to the paperback edition of the novel and did not appear in the original hardcover. What does it add to the story? Did it reveal anything that you didn’t already suspect? Did any part of the sisters’ future surprise you? Do you feel hopeful for them?
13. How does Thorne use setting to convey the narrator’s inner feelings? Compare the environments of Northern California and Utah. What does each location represent to Liz? How does each location—cities as well as homes—reveal and reflect its inhabitants?
14. Discuss the generational cycles of violence in the novel. Do any of the characters break this cycle? Which ones? How? Do you have hope that other characters will be able to break the cycle someday?
15. Discuss the role of religion in Hand Me Down. What does it represent for different characters?
16. What role does Noah play? How are Liz’s feelings about him different from her feelings about Jaime? How are your feelings about him different from your feelings about the sisters?
17. Thorne uses many references to popular culture (movies, song titles, magazines, bands, TV shows, etc…). What does this add to the narrative? How did you react to the cultural references?
18. Do you think Terrance’s character can be read as an indirect commentary on the American penal system? Why or why not?
19. Thorne goes back and forth in time throughout the novel and between present and past tense. What impact does this have on the story? What impact does it have on you as a reader?
20. Is this a typical American family? Why or why not? What do you think accounts for the dysfunction? Do you know families who struggle with similar issues?