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One for Sorrowby Christopher Barzak
Reading Group Guide
1. Discuss the novels four epigraphs. How do those perspectives on life and death reflect the events in One for Sorrow? Do these quotations match your perception of mortality?
2. Reread the rhyme that provides the novels title (Adam recalls his grandmother delivering these lines in “The Facts of Death”). What aspects of fate are present in the other lines, originally referring to crows circling broken stalks of corn? What allowed Adam and his grandmother to see images that were invisible to others?
3. What caused Adams family to break down? Is his father the only source of their suffering? What accounts for the tremendous differences between Adam and his brother, Andy?
4. Does Gracie give Adam an initiation into love that will serve him well later in life? Do he and Gracie harm or heal each other?
5. How does Gracies family life compare to Adams? Did she and Adam share the same reasons for wanting to leave? Why did he manage to escape again, while she was not able to do so?
6. Does Adams mothers accident mirror other debilitating events in the novel? To what extent do Adam and Jamie also experience a version of paralysis? Is his mother the only one who develops an unhealthy relationship with her caregiver?
7. How would you characterize the vision of death and afterlife presented in Jamies story? Do you believe in a spirit world? If so, what do you think causes a soul to be restless? How do the novels characters, living or dead, find peace?
8. Adam alludes to reading a novel like Catcher in the Rye, expressing disdain for a well-heeled runaway teen like Holden Caulfield. What might Holden think of Adam? What distinguishes Adams narrative voice from that of other fictional teenage characters who have told a tale of painful alienation?
9. In “The Facts of Death,” Adam prepares the first draft of his Things I Know about the Dead and Other Observations. What would your own list of facts of death look like?
10. What are the major differences between Jamies and Francess relationship with death? In the end, did it prove to be liberating when Adam burned down the Wilkinson house? What were his motivations for doing that?
11. Was Adams grandmother right about the “finger of God”? How does Adams concept of God and religion change after his intense education from Jamie?
12. What is Tias role in guiding Adam back to his family? What does her fathers decrepit church come to mean to Adam? What turning points spurred him to return to his family after such a long absence?
13. How had you perceived Lucy in the beginning of the novel? Did you agree with those who didnt trust her?
14. The novel opens with words Adam would hear at the starting line: “On your marks … get set … go!” His aunt was especially supportive of his role on the track team. In what ways is running an appropriate metaphor for his life?
15. How is life defined in One for Sorrow? Who among the living and the dead provide Adam with the will to live? What does it take for Adam to discover what it means to truly be alive?
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