READING GROUP GUIDE
Questions about The Astonishing Thing for your Book Club are available here. Don't look until after you have read the book, to avoid spoilers!
READING GROUP DISCUSSIONS
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What kind of fiction do you write?
While I've explored different genres, my favorite to write is adult and young adult contemporary fiction. I like to examine the real world, where people don't always behave like we want them to, and relationships are often dysfunctional (whether we realize it or not). When things fall apart, it's up to us to figure out how to put our world back together. The one element that never changes in my writing is that there is always a love story at the core. My endings may not be traditional happy endings, but they're hopeful. Even imperfect lives are worth living.
Is The Astonishing Thing really told from the point of view of a cat?
Sure, but THE ASTONISHING THING isn’t just for animal lovers! It’s a family drama and a love story. There is plenty of romance, and two strong teen characters. It's a story about a marriage, how hard it is to be a parent, and the challenges of being the caregiver for someone with a chronic illness.
Why did you write from Boo's point of view?
At first, I thought it would be a fun exercise, to try and write from the cat’s point of view, as she tries to solve the mystery of where her mother went. Boo gives her human family unconditional love, in the way we’d expect a dog would, but because she’s a cat I had a little freedom to make her sarcastic and judgmental about certain things, giving her voice some humor.
As I wrote more of the story, I realized that the cat could almost be a stand-in for a child’s point of view. She understands a lot of what’s going on—but not everything, including her mother’s actions. Boo is perceptive in some ways, but misinterprets other situations. So the reader must go on a journey with Boo, piecing together clues until the story becomes clear.
Who is your favorite character in the book?
I love them all, for different reasons. I am naturally protective of Boo and feel a special bond with her.
Tommy’s scenes (the father) were the most emotionally draining to write. The teen characters in the book, Jimmy and Mary, were the most fun to spend time with. Readers often tell me that Jimmy is their favorite character. He’s easygoing and funny, and handles his problems with a lightness and grace that I think people would like to have themselves.
What does Boo think about human romance?
When humans are in love, they do crazy things! Boo understands that. She sees it as part of the natural order. She knows when a human is looking for a mate based on the pheromones being given off. Boo might know what’s going on even before the person does.
Where in New England does The Astonishing Thing take place?
I grew up in Manchester-by-the-sea, Massachusetts. The fictional town where the Sullivan family lives could represent any coastal town in northern Massachusetts, although I had the towns on Cape Ann in mind when I wrote the story. Boo only leaves the house once in the story, but she smells the salt air through the screen door and plays with the snow that gets tracked into the hallway. She watches wild deer in the woods through the back sliding glass door, and finds raccoons the scariest of all—just as I did, as a kid.
Tell me about your cat.
My cat Winnie is a middle aged cat. When we adopted her from the local SPCA, we promised we would keep her indoors. But we do open windows so she can feel the breeze on her face and watch the birds and other neighborhood cats. She's surprisingly agile for a cat with "extra padding" on her. My kids tell me she needs to lose some weight, but I think she's perfect. (There is more of her to love!)