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Daniel Isn't Talkingby Marti Leimbach
Reading Group Guide
1. There are occasional flashbacks throughout the novel that give a glimpse of what Melanie was like before she had children. How would you describe her character before she became a mother? How has she changed?
2. Melanie and Stephens house empties out of possessions as Melanie sells their things to pay for Daniels various therapies and other needs. What does Melanie mean when she says, “I am in a different market than the rest of the world” [p. 164]?
3. How are the subjects of race and class treated in the novel?
4. Andy says he understands Melanie as an “autism mother.” What is the implication of this term? How might Andys perception of “autism mothers” be different than that of most people Melanie encounters?
5. When Melanie tells Veena about Daniels diagnosis, she makes an outright appeal for Veenas compassion and sympathy. Instead, Veena says, “You are a white woman living in a white paradise. This is not the worst thing that can happen” [p. 59]. What does Veena mean by this? Why would Melanie find these words comforting?
6. How do you describe the connection between Melanie and Veena? How are these apparently very different women similar? What about their circumstances helps them to understand each other? Would they have been friends if Daniel was normal?
7. Early in the novel Melanie thinks she may be “unstable” [p. 13]. Would you agree with that? Following Daniels diagnosis, does she seem more or less “stable” to the world around her? To you as a reader?
8. On the morning of Daniels diagnosis, Melanies immediate reaction is to say, “I feel that a change has taken place. I cannot help feeling as though I started the journey this morning with my beloved little boy and am returning with a slightly alien, uneducable time bomb” [p. 55]. How has Daniels diagnosis temporarily changed his mothers perception of him? What examples can be seen of her resisting this changed perception? How has Stephens view of his son been altered by the diagnosis?
9. How does Daniels diagnosis affect his sister, Emily? In what ways does Melanie try to shield Emily from the full implications of having a brother with autism? In what ways is she successful? In what ways is she not successful?
10. Was Stephens departure useful in helping Daniel? In the long run, was his absence a good thing for Daniel? For Emily? How might things have been different for the children if Stephen had stayed?
11. At the end of the novel, Melanie states that Stephen “has shifted all blame for our marriage onto me. Onto my whims and desires. At the same time he has cleverly cast his bid. He is smart. Maybe that is what I found so attractive about him. I do not find it so attractive now” [p. 274]. How has Stephen made Melanie feel responsible for the failure of their marriage? Do you think she is to blame?
12. Melanie says that Andy “has touched a part of me that was dying and brought it to life once more. This belongs to him” [p. 183]. What does Melanie mean by this statement? What is the unusual nature of Melanie and Andys connection and deepening relationship? What do they know about each others families and backgrounds? Does this matter?
13. In Chapter twenty-three Melanie sees a group of young women at a bus stop. About one of them she says, “I want to tell her that she is a woman of great virtue. A woman of grace. That I admire her. And that I see her differently than perhaps she sees herself. Now that I have truly seen her, now that I have taken notice” [p. 258]. In what sense has Melanie “truly seen” this young woman? What stops her from speaking to the woman?
14. How is the readers experience of the novel affected by the knowledge that Marti Leimbach herself is an “autism mother?”
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