For Book Group Lovers

Back in Colorado, I belonged to an amazing women’s book group for eight years. One of the best things about it was how close we all were. We tended to catch up on the latest news first, sharing our various ups and downs. Only then would we turn to the book at hand. Which was when strong opinions might fly.

Actually, I enjoyed those evenings most. One of us might gush about how this month’s book was brilliant, riveting—the next Gone Girl, or All the Light We Cannot See–while across the room, another would be shaking her head. “Wow. I guess something’s wrong with me. I thought it was just…okay?” On occasion, you might hear little retching sounds coming from the corner.

Yep, we didn’t hold back.

Even if your group takes a more reserved and proper approach, I think you’ll agree that books should spark passion in us. They should compel us to experience something strongly, and to care a lot about the people we meet on the page. With that in mind, I hope the questions below will help you dig deep to discover what you really think and feel about Venus’s story.

By the way, if you’re interested, I’m available to join your group by phone or Skype or Facetime. Email me for details. We could have fun—and I promise to listen well and answer truly, whether you gush or not.

  1. What would you say was your most significant take-away from the story? What surprised you the most?
  2. Who was your favorite character and why? Which character—if any—did you identify with and why?
  3. For much of the novel, one of Venus’s primary emotions seems to be anger at her mother. How did this anger both help and hurt her on her own journey towards healing?
  4. The novel takes the reader to some very dark places—child abuse, murder, kidnapping, and explores deep personal losses for many characters. Did the story strike you as unrelentingly dark or depressing? If not, why?
  5.  In a novel that delves into themes like innocence, guilt, forgiveness, and redemption for many of the characters, how would you define Leo’s role and the theme that he represents?
  6. Did Raymond deserve to die? If not, what would justice look like for him?
  7. Most stories require some kind of villain—and we have a clear one in Raymond. But what about Tinker? He kidnapped a child and robbed Inez of her son and Venus of her brother for 6 years. In your view, is he just as evil? What do you think became of Tinker after he abandoned Leo?
  8. Why do you think Tessa became so quickly enamored of a little boy like Leo? How realistic did you find Tony’s willingness to illegally adopt Leo?
  9. At first Venus resists getting too involved with Piper, but they soon develop a strong bond. Why do you think this relationship became so important to Venus?
  10. Soon after the Seattle Times reporter blows Venus’s cover at The Dipper, Venus shows up on Inez’s doorstep. Were you surprised at the way that evening between them unfolded? If so, how?
  11. Inez’s point of view isn’t revealed until late in the story. Why do you think the author chose to wait until then? How did her point of view change the way you saw her?
  12. When Venus returns to her bedroom in the basement, she relives the series of painful events that led to her crime. What did the scene reveal about Venus, Inez, and Raymond that you didn’t know? What emotions did you feel while you were reading it?
  13.  When the story closes, Venus and Inez have reestablished a relationship. But we don’t know for certain that Venus has fully forgiven her mom. Do you think she has? So many adult children are estranged from their parents. Why do you think a parent’s failures are so hard to forgive?
  14. How do you feel Leo brought two disparate families together? Did you think Inez should forgive Tony and Tessa for keeping Leo?
  15. Would you say that in the end My Name is Venus Black is an uplifting and hopeful story or a dark, cautionary tale? (Maybe both or neither).