General Discussion Guide

General Discussion, by Kathy Garfin, high school English literature teacher

1. What do you think motivated Newcom to tell her story? Is her story different from other memoirs of parents of special needs children?

2. What is the author’s most admirable quality? Her least admirable? What are some examples from the book that highlight these strengths or weaknesses?

3. How does Newcom tell her story? Discuss the book’s structure, tone and style.

4. Discuss Newcom’s spirituality. Does it change throughout the course of the book? How does she react when her faith is tested over and over again?

5. Discuss Mark and Joy’s marriage. What makes their marriage (or any marriage) successful? What do Mark and Joy give to each other that makes their marriage work so well?

6. Did you find Mark “too good to be true?” How did you respond to his decision to be a stay-at-home “Mom” and his family’s reaction to that decision?

7. Some people have reacted strongly to Joy’s decision to go back to work after Stross is born and her frustration with not finding adequate childcare. Could you empathize with her plight? If not, why not? Would you feel differently if her child had not been born with multiple birth defects?

8. Discuss the author’s relationships with her and Mark’s families. How does the birth of Stross challenge those relationships?

9. Although this is the story of Stross’ birth and the affect it had on Joy and her family, it is also the story of finding one’s identity in life and how that identity continues to change and evolve over time. How did Stross change Joy’s perception of herself? How did she cope with this? Have you ever experienced a “loss of identity” because of a job change, divorce or other life-altering event?

10. How does Joy deal with her strong feelings of anger throughout the book? Do you think her anger is misplaced at times? Does it mask other emotions? What helped her move beyond the anger?

11. On page 79, Joy talked about how “the awareness of some unknown loss confused” her. She wonders if her feelings of loss are for “the freedom of unlimited dreams.” What do you think she means by this? Have you ever grieved for some “unknown loss”?

12. By the end of the book, has Joy been able to move forward, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually? What were some of the “steps” Joy took throughout the story that helped her move forward?

13. Does this book change your opinion about children with special needs? What, if anything, surprised you in this book?

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