This reading group guide for Somewhere Out There includes discussion questions and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book. Topics & Questions for Discussion
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1. When Jennifer gives up custody of her children, she is told she is giving them their best chance, and she later comforts herself that she did the right thing for both her girls and herself. In what ways does the book support or refute this idea? Does it ultimately seem that this decision was the best choice for all three women? Why or why not?
2. The novel is told through the alternating perspectives of three characters: Jennifer, Brooke, and Natalie. Jennifer’s is the only one told in the first person. What is the effect of this style of narration? Whose voice did you most identify with? Are there other characters whose points of view you would have liked to see? How might the story look differently through their eyes?
3. Natalie’s parents keep Brooke a secret from Natalie well into her adult life. What were their motivations in withholding this information? Did you feel this decision was justified?
4. Maternal figures play significant roles throughout the novel, including Brooke as an expecting mom. Brooke is terrified she might be a “bad” mother. In your opinion, what makes a good or bad mother, and in which category would you place the various mothers in the novel? Consider Jennifer, Jennifer’s mom, Natalie, Natalie’s adoptive mother, and Brooke’s former roommate Zora. Did reading Somewhere Out There
change any of your perceptions of what makes a good mother?
5. If Jennifer had not been chosen for the veterinary antirecidivism program when she was released a second time, she might have been in the same difficult position looking for employment as she was after her first incarceration. If she had taken the job offered by her fellow inmate O’Brien—working for a drug dealer—would you see her character differently? How do you think Brooke or Natalie would have responded when they found her?
6. Natalie observes: “[K]ids seem to be who they’ll grow up to be pretty early in life. . . . Kyle and I have helped teach them how to make good choices between what’s right and what’s wrong, but their personalities have been with them from the get-go.” When Jennifer meets Natalie and Brooke, she is shocked at how easily she recognizes them. To what extent do Brooke’s and Natalie’s personalities seem intrinsic, and how much seems to be a result of their upbringing? To what degree has Jennifer’s personality changed at the end of the novel, when she’s fifty- five, compared to the beginning, when she’s a teenager?
7. Discuss the way Brooke approached decisions related to her pregnancy. Did you agree with her initial instinct to keep Ryan, the father, out of the child’s life? Or her choice to keep the baby? What would you have done in her shoes? What are the considerations—logistical and philosophical—that affect these kinds of decisions, and how do these considerations play out when Brooke and Jennifer face tough choices?
8. Brooke and Natalie have drastically different childhoods, but once reunited, they find common ground in the shared experience of separation from their birth mother. What other similarities between them mark them as sisters? Ultimately, do you think nature trumps nurture, or vice versa?
9. Throughout the novel, various characters note how technology and popular opinions about adoption influence their actions, from their decisions about whether to tell children that they are adopted to the use of the internet to track down family members. How would this story have been different in an earlier time period?
10. The importance of familial support is emphasized throughout the book, whether it comes from a sibling, parent, or spouse. How are the consequences of a lack of familial support depicted within the book? Discuss which relationships in Some- where Out There
seem more or less nurturing, and their direct and indirect effects on the characters involved. Enhance Your Book Club
1.When Jennifer is in prison, she is able to reach a real turning point in her life as a result of an antirecidivism program. Prison book programs are also shown to reduce recidivism. Consider volunteering or donating books as a group to one that serves prisoners in your area, or learn more at prisonbookprogram .org.
2. Consider reading another novel that tackles the issue of adoption, such as Little Beauties
by Kim Addonizio, The Mothers
by Jennifer Gilmore, or The Comfort of Lies
by Randy Susan Meyers. How is this issue treated differently in those novels com- pared with Somewhere Out There
, and how does perspective affect the story being told?
3. For Jennifer, the dogs she works with become not only a way of helping others, but also a source of personal comfort and pride in her ability to take care of something other than her- self. How have animals in your life influenced you? Has a pet ever protected you or helped you get past a difficulty? Discuss as a group. To learn more about service animals, read more at pawswithacause.org.