Sisters (Jensen)

Discussion Questions
1. There are many secrets in The Sisters, beginning with Mabel’s decision not to tell Bertie about Jim Butcher. In trying to understand her sister’s behavior, fourteen-year-old Bertie wonders if “the things she didn’t know were what kept her safe.” What secrets do other characters keep, and how do you think the secrets ultimately help or hurt their loved ones?

2. How does the period in which each woman comes of age affect her experience and shape her outlook on what is possible?

3. How do the main characters perceive loyalty? Betrayal? What do you think of their perceptions?

4. How do Bertie’s girlhood losses affect her daughters’ and granddaughters’ relationships with men?

5. Bertie, Alma, and Lynn are accused by other characters of being hard and cold. How do you see them? To what extent do you think they change in the course of the novel?

6. At the end of her life, Bertie struggles to cry out to Rainey and Lynn, “Forgive. Forgive.” Why do you believe some characters are able to forgive and others not? Do you believe everything can or should be forgiven?

7. What does the novel suggest about whether families are born or made?

8. When Daisy expresses her concern that Mabel is setting herself up for emotional pain by photographing young men bound for Vietnam, Mabel tells Daisy, “You can’t protect yourself from loss.” Do you think this is true? What happens to the characters in the novel, and to people in your experience, when they try?

9. In her interview with Ed Bradley, Mabel says, “I don’t think any real war [is ever over]—large, small, between countries, between people. Even the wars inside ourselves. Something always remains.” Do you agree—in the novel and/or in real life?

10. The Sisters is structured as a series of chronological, interlocking narratives, sometimes with strikingly different perspectives of the same events. In what ways does this structure reflect the experience of an individual within a family?

11. Bertie tells Grace, “Something can happen to change your life so sudden, you can’t get over it fast enough…And that changes things for them too, all in a line.” Do you think that happens in most people’s lives at one time or another? If so, is the chain reaction inevitable, or can someone choose to break the chain?

12. How were you affected when Bertie wrote Deceased on the letter from Mabel, and Mabel later decided not to follow up on Nick’s possible lead about Bertie’s whereabouts? Can you imagine either of them acting differently? Did you find the conclusion satisfying?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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