Juventud (Blakeslee)

Discussion Questions
1. What did you learn about the various forces at play in Colombia—the drug cartels, the landowners, the Catholic Church, the social justice advocates, the government, and the paramilitary?

2. Both Catholicism and Judaism encourage forgiveness among adherents. What lessons does Juventud teach readers about how and when to forgive others about perceived wrongs?
 
3. Throughout her life, Mercedes believes that she has convincing evidence of her father’s role in the murder of her lover, Manuel. She struggles with whether to confront and/or forgive her father. Should Mercedes forgive Diego even though he has not confessed to or acknowledged a role in Manuel’s murder? Does someone who has wronged another need to “earn” forgiveness or repent in order for the aggrieved person to forgive them?
 
4. Before leaving for boarding school in the U.S., Mercedes is tempted to ask her father about Manuel’s murder. (Chapter 13, page 221) She eventually confronts her father much later, as an adult, when she works at the State Department. What stopped Mercedes from confronting her father when she first left Colombia as a teen? How might an earlier confrontation have changed things between them?

5. In Miami, Mercedes is reunited with her mother, who lives in Jerusalem (Chapter 15, pages 232-236). Mercedes expects intimacy and affection from her mother. However, Paula seems distant. Why did Paula seem to struggle with her feelings about reuniting with her teenaged daughter?

6. As a young woman, Mercedes and the young, idealistic, social justice advocates with whom she associates see the world in absolutes, right and wrong, as black and white, not shades of gray—hence the story’s title, Juventud (“youth” in Spanish). How does this outlook compare to generational differences in thought and action in violence-prone areas outside of Colombia, such as Israel or Iran? Or conflicts within the U.S.?
 
7. After Mercedes learns the truth, what do you think she will do to “make things right” with her father? In hindsight, does Mercedes feel that she needs to ask Diego to forgive her for her suspicions of his wrongdoing?

8. At the end of the novel, how does Mercedes feel about blaming her father for Manuel’s murder for so many years? Is it regret? Remorse? What’s the difference? How does her background and upbringing inform her earlier suspicions? How much of her suspicious can she attribute to youthful naiveté or gullibility?

9. When Mercedes learns the truth about Manuel’s murder, she reflects that if he hadn’t died, she would have had an entirely different life (Chapter 20, page 331). Did this passage prompt you to recall any similar cross roads in your life and imagine a different outcome for your current life? How much of our lives, especially in young adulthood, is subject to personal decisions, and how much is dictated by external forces beyond our control?
(Questions courtesy of the author.)

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