Last Summer (of You and Me) (Brashares)

Discussion Questions
1. Early on, we learn of the different beaches associated with each character: a Riley beach "was when little grains of sand whipped like glass against your skin and the surf was ragged and punishing"; a Paul beach has "low-tide crunchy sand, a sharp drop-off to the water, and a close army of rough, green waves"; and an Alice beach "was truly rare, and it involved tide pools." Discuss these three characters in relation to the beaches named after them. Are the names appropriate or ironic?

2. The school psychologist whom Riley is taken to in the fifth grade explains that the mind "has an immune system of its own." When dealing with distress, "it surrounds the offending element like a germ and stops its spread." Discuss the thematic significance of this passage. How does the "immune system" of each character's mind influence their actions throughout the novel?

3. Riley's sexuality is a subject of speculation for many characters in the novel. At one point, Paul guiltily considers the question: "Was Riley gay? Was she sexual at all? Was she lonely?" What answers does the novel offer? Are these questions even relevant to understanding who Riley is? Or are they, as Paul thinks, a subject for "smaller minds"?

4. Consider the author's choice of chapter titles. Some relate directly to subject of the chapter ("Waiting"), others introduce ideas not explicitly explored until later chapters ("You'll Turn Out Ordinary if You're Not Careful"), while still others echo ideas from previous chapters ("Cryogenics"). What, in your opinion, is the purpose of these titles? What do they reveal about the author's overall narrative approach?

5. Riley says that she missed the call for a potential heart transplant because she was swimming. Do you believe this? Is there some part of Riley—conscious or unconscious—that is seeking death?

6. As a child, Riley wonders what would happen if the dolphins in the aquarium at Coney Island could talk to the dolphins swimming in the ocean. "What would a free dolphin say to a captive one? How could one possibly understand the circumstances of the other?" How does this passage relate to the larger themes of the novel? Discuss the symbolic role of the Coney Island dolphins.

7. The phrase "consider yourself forgiven" is employed three times in the story: by Alice, as part of her ultimatum to Paul at the beginning of their romance; by Ethan, after Paul apologizes for brushing him off outside NYU; and by Paul, when Ethan expresses regret for his relationship with Paul's mother. Discuss the subtext of each occurrence of this phrase, and how it relates the development of the main characters.

8. Ultimately, Alice, Paul, and Riley fear growing up because of the example set by the adults in their world—especially their parents. How does each character deal with this fear through the course of the story? How does it influence their actions?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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