How to Walk Away (Center)

How to Walk Away
Katherine Center, 2018
St. Martin's Press
320 pp.

From the author of Happiness for Beginners comes an unforgettable love story about finding joy even in the darkest of circumstances.

Margaret Jacobsen is just about to step into the bright future she’s worked for so hard and so long: a new dream job, a fiancé she adores, and the promise of a picture-perfect life just around the corner.

Then, suddenly, on what should have been one of the happiest days of her life, everything she worked for is taken away in a brief, tumultuous moment.

In the hospital and forced to face the possibility that nothing will ever be the same again, Maggie must confront the unthinkable.

First there is her fiance, Chip, who wallows in self-pity while simultaneously expecting to be forgiven. Then, there's her sister Kit, who shows up after pulling a three-year vanishing act. Finally, there's Ian, her physical therapist, the one the nurses said was too tough for her.

Ian, who won't let her give in to her pity, and who sees her like no one has seen her before. Sometimes the last thing you want is the one thing you need. Sometimes we all need someone to catch us when we fall. And sometimes love can find us in the least likely place we would ever expect.

How to Walk Away is Katherine Center at her very best—a masterpiece of a novel that is both hopeful and hilarious; truthful and wise; tender and brave. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—March 4, 1972
Raised—Houston, Texas, USA
Education—B.A., Vassar College; M.F.A., University of Houston
Currently—lives in Houston, Texas

Katherine Center is the author of several contemporary novels about love and family. She graduated from St. John's School in Houston, Texas, and later earned her B.A. from Vassar College, where she won the Vassar College Fiction Prize.

She went on to receive her M.A. in fiction from the University of Houston. While in graduate school, she distinguised herself as a writer and editor: she co-edited Gulf Coast, a literary fiction magazine, and her graduate thesis earned her a spot as a finalist for the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction.

Center is the author of five novels: The Bright Side of Disaster (2006), Everyone is Beautiful (2009), Get Lucky (2010), The Lost Husband (2013), Happiness for Beginners (2015), and How to Walk Away (2018), which became a Book of the Month Club pick. Center's work is often categorized as women's fiction, chick lit and mommy lit. She describes her books as "bittersweet comic novels."

Center currently lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband and two children.


  • Along with Jeffrey Toobin and Douglas Brinkley, Center was one of the speakers at the 2007 Houston Chronicle Book and Author Dinner.
  • Her first novel was optioned by Varsity Pictures.
  • Center has published essays in Real Simple and the anthologies Because I Love Her, CRUSH: 26 Real-Life Tales of First Love, and My Parents Were Awesome.
  • Center also makes video essays, one of which, a letter to her daughter about motherhood, became the very popular "Defining a Movement" video for the Mom 2.0 conference.
  • As a speaker at the 2018 TEDx Bend, Center's talk was entitled, "We Need to Teach Boys to Read Stories About Girls."

  (Author bio adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 5/15/2018.)

Book Reviews
[A] bittersweet tale of a young woman suffering from a devastating injury who learns to care about others when she can’t figure out what to do for herself.… Center transforms the story of a family tragedy into a heartfelt guide to living the fullest life possible.

Inspiring and romantic, this novel is similar to Jojo Moyes's Me Before You. The budding romance will draw readers in, but the relationships among the many other characters also make it memorable. —Holly Skir, Broward Cty. Lib., FL
Library Journal

(Starring review) Center knows how to keep the pages turning, ensuring readers will be completely swept up in Margaret’s story. With its appealing characters and wisdom about grappling with life’s challenges, Center’s sixth novel has all the makings of a breakout hit.

(Starring review) A woman faces a new life after surviving a plane crash in this moving story…. A story that could be either uncompromisingly bleak or unbearably saccharine is neither in Center's hands… with plenty of romantic-comedy…[H]onest and wryly funny.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. After Maggie’s accident, everyone in her life reacts to  the news in very different ways. What different ways of dealing with grief do you see on display in the novel, both healthy and unhealthy? How do you deal with tragedies in your own life?

2. On page 37, when Maggie wakes up from her time in the ICU, her mother says to her, "You were perfect," implying that she is now imperfect. Why do you think her mother reacts this way? What kind of impact do you think that comment has on Maggie when she’s already in an emotional state?

3. Throughout the novel, Maggie has to navigate her changing relationship with her family. At one point she says, "This was the trouble with sisters. This was the trouble with family. I had barely cracked open the door to my life, and she’d just barged in and made herself at home." Why do you think Maggie feels invaded by her family? Do you think that her family really was out of line, or was Maggie just struggling? How does your own family react in times of trouble?

4. On page 111, Maggie sees her skin grafts for the first time and thinks, "I would forever be someone who made other people uncomfortable." Her immediate concern isn’t about being less attractive, but about making others uncomfortable. What do you make of this reaction? What does it reveal about Maggie as a character? Why do we feel so uncomfortable around those who have physical differences?

5. The central focus of Maggie’s physical therapy and the thing that her mother and others fixate on is walking: to get her walking again. What do you think the ability to walk symbolizes, not just for Maggie but for people in general? Just freedom, independence? Or is there something more about the ability to walk on our own that makes us terrified of losing the ability?

6. Ian tells Maggie that it is the trying that heals you, not necessarily succeeding. Do you think he’s right? Why or why not? Do you think that, ultimately, it is the trying that heals Maggie?

7. While she is in the hospital, one of the people who provides Maggie with the most emotional support is her sister, Kitty. How do you see the relationship between Maggie and Kitty developing throughout the novel? Why do you think this happened, when they spent so many years estranged from each other?

8. Maggie’s life has been divided into a "before" and an "after" by the accident. Have you experienced something that split your life like this? How do you think you can mesh the two people—the old you and the new you? Where can you see Maggie struggling to do this? Where can you see her succeeding?

9. On page 165, Maggie thinks, "This was my mangled body and my hopeless soul, stepping up at last." What does she mean by this? What motivates her to step up when she would rather give up? How do we come to terms with our own "hopeless souls" in our lives?

10. One of the epigraphs that opens the novel is a quote from Eve Lapin that says "There are all kinds of happy endings." What do you think of the ending of this story? What kind of happy ending is it? Is it satisfying, even if everything isn’t perfect?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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