Bridge of Clay (Zusak) - Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions
1. The book starts with a striking scenario: "In the beginning there was one murderer, one mule and one boy.…" What expectations did this give you for the novel? Do you think this is representative of the story as a whole?

2. Penny’s and Michael’s upbringings are very different. Do you see ref lections of their childhoods in the way they choose to bring up the boys? What do you think was the purpose of focusing on their family history?

3. Each of the Dunbar brothers seems to be connected to one of the pets. Can you draw connections between these relationships and the animals’ literary names?

4. Why are Michael, and later Clay, determined to build the bridge? Do you believe that they are doing it for different reasons?

5. Clay and Carey’s relationship is a cornerstone of his story—why do you think he was able to tell her things that he couldn’t tell his brothers? How do you think her death affected the remainder of his story?

6. Readers go over the story of Penny’s death a few times throughout the later sections of the narrative. What more do we learn about her character and about how her passing transformed all the boys? How do each of the boys react?

7. On pg. 9, Matthew says: "Let me tell you about our brother. The fourth Dunbar boy named Clay. Everything happened to him. We were all of us changed through him." Discuss the changes this is referring to. How are each of the boys different by the end of the story?

8. The action that makes up the bulk of the novel has already happened when Matthew tells us the story. Were you still surprised by the conclusion and where all the boys ended up?

9. At first it is not clear why Matthew is narrator, but later on (pg. 490) he says:

For starters, this story wasn’t over yet.
And even then, it wouldn’t be him.
The story was his, but not the writing.
It was hard enough living and being it.

Why do you think it was important to tell this story? What can you assume about Matthew’s relationship with Clay following the events in the book?

10. Bridge of Clay is about the complexity of the relationships within the Dunbar family. As you read their story, did you find anything relatable? Was there anything you found hard to empathize with?

11. Markus Zusak has said:

Bridge of Clay is about Clay Dunbar, who builds a bridge to honor his parents.… He builds a bridge for his brothers, but he’s also building the bridge for himself. That’s his one attempt at greatness. And I think he really wants to produce a miracle as a kind of cure for the tragedies he’s endured, and he wants to make one great thing to transcend humanness. I think at the end of the day, even if he falls short, he just wants it to be a great attempt, and that to me is what the book is really about.

How do you assess Clay’s "great attempt"?

(Questions issued by the publisher. See the complete Discussion Guide.)

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