Books

Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

By the Shore

by Galaxy Craze

“Breathtaking. . . . Craze is note-perfect from beginning to end.” —San Francisco Chronicle

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 240
  • Publication Date May 22, 2000
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-3687-9
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $12.00
  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Publication Date December 01, 2007
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-9683-5
  • US List Price $12.00

About The Book

Profiled in Interview as a rising literary light even as she was launching an acting career in films by David Lynch and Woody Allen, twenty-eight-year-old Galaxy Craze now delivers a beguiling debut novel, By the Shore.

As direct and precise as a child’s diary, By the Shore introduces the world of twelve-year-old May, who lives in a less-than-thriving oceanfront bed-and-breakfast run by her single mother. May’s life is filled with the frustrations and promise of youth, complicated by a loving if distracted young mother who strives to care for her two children without forfeiting her own fun and passion. May puts her faith in the things that elude her—an absent father, the London city life left behind, the acceptance of the popular girls who have boyfriends, off-the-rack clothes, and matronly mothers who provide more than tea and toast at mealtimes—and wonders if her life will ever change. When a kindly writer and his glamorous editor come to lodge in the weeks before Christmas, opportunities are in the air. But then May’s playboy father, estranged from the family for years, drops in and threatens to freeze the delicate new possibilities stirring in all their lives.

British-born and-raised Galaxy Craze writes with delicate confidence of the subtle-ties of childhood understanding and the tender workings of new relationships. By the Shore is a crystalline capturing of a modern romance and that fragile, bittersweet world of youth on the cusp of adulthood.

Tags Literary

Praise

By the Shore is breathtaking. . . . Craze is note-perfect from beginning to end.” —San Francisco Chronicle

By the Shore is astoundingly well-written. Craze doesn’t drop topical references, nor does she patronize her narrator as adults taking on a child’s voice often do. In fact, she never falters. . . . Craze has created an ageless coming-of-age story.” —Seattle Weekly

“In May, Craze has crafted a fully realized portrait of a young girl who is leaving her childhood behind. . . . In its tender, playful final moment, the novel opens into a world after childhood, yet inspired by its promise.” —The National Post (Canada)

“Craze draws these characters with a feathery touch, just light enough to trace the essentials without leaving a smudge.” —Los Angeles Times

“Craze paints a gentle picture of the vulnerability and venom of childhood. . . . By the Shore [is] an amusing, gritty debut which has rightly been making waves in the literary world.” —The Independent on Sunday (London)

“Intelligent . . . Moving . . . An impressive and thoughtful debut.” —The Guardian (London)

“Craze’s odd, lovely book . . . patiently floats along in its own strange sea. . . . [Its] charm lies in Craze’s slightly skewed perspective, the way she tells things ‘slant,’ as Emily Dickinson put it.” —Time Out New York

“Lovely and understated . . . Rarely has an author captured the thoughts and emotions of a painfully sensitive, precocious adolescent girls so well.” —The Austin Chronicle

By the Shore is one of the better books by any new writer on the scene at the moment. . . . A truly skillful novel.” —The Express (London)

“The pure beauty of [By the Shore] is in the author’s ability to convey monumental moments in a girl’s life with minimal action.” —The Oakland Press

“The great thing about Craze’s vision is that although she is so clear-sighted about the traumas of adolescence . . . she also manages to remind you of that strange, fizzy joy that most of us remember from our teenage days.” —Vogue (Britain)

“Galaxy Craze in her debut novel has created a haunting and bittersweet coming-of-age story that will linger with you long after you have turned the last page. Wonderful.” —Fannie Flagg

By the Shore is a beautifully realized evocation of a child’s world, a glimpse into an experience not yet sufficiently explored: the life of a child of a child of the ’60s. This book is entirely original, full of rich detail and a slant and quirky wit.” —Mary Gordon

“Completely delightful!” —Fay Weldon

“Galaxy Craze has captured that delicate and painful moment in childhood when deciphering the muddled mysteries of adult life seems the key to survival. Her prose shimmers with truth and wisdom, her story with humor and surprise. By the Shore is a moving and tender debut.” —Martha McPhee

By the Shore is a book that creeps up behind and touches you, leaves you with the memory of that touch. It’s a book that is both tender and vulnerable and also unflinching in the way it cuts through that tenderness, using a child’s objectivity as a knife. Galaxy Craze portrays perfectly how children come to inhabit the dangerous, flamboyant world of adulthood, how they interpret the drama and dance of adult desire, how they learn its steps. The precision of the images are breathtakingly real, and access a poignant, flinty memory for the reader of what it is like to be twelve years old and uncertain, uncertain.” —Kirsty Gunn

Excerpt

Chapter One

It can be dangerous to live by the shore. In the winter, after a storm, things wash up on it: rusty pieces of sharp metal, glass, jellyfish. You must be careful where you tread. Sometimes I see a lone fish that has suffocated on the shore and think for days that there are fish in the water waiting for it to return. Then I think, There is nowhere to be safe.

But in the summer, when the guests are here, there are different things in the sand: suntan lotion, coins, and flip-flops. I even found a silver watch and it was still ticking. Once I found what I thought was a piece of skin buried in the sand. I made my brother Eden pick it up with a twig and put it in a jar of water.

This house used to be a girls’ school. It had a bareness, which was its beauty. There were rusty coat hooks in the front hall and wooden cubbyholes with the names of the girls etched in them.

My mother, my brother Eden, and I moved here from London two years ago. I was ten, then, and Eden was four. When we first walked into the house, I thought, There is so much room, I can do whatever I want; I can do cartwheels down the hallways. But then we moved into the old headmistress’s flat on the top floor, which had small rooms and slanted ceilings. The rest of the house was for the guests. Annabel, my mother’s friend from London, came to help decorate; she hung curtains and put soap dishes in the bathrooms.

In the summer all the rooms are full. People come to swim in the sea, to sunbathe on the rocks. During the autumn and winter hardly anyone comes to stay, and I move into one of the empty guest rooms at the bottom of the house.

One afternoon, near the end of October, I came home from school and all my books, clothes and china animals had been moved. As I stood in the doorway, I thought, I must have walked into the wrong room. A broom lay on the floor next to a dustpan. The sheets had been taken off the bed. The windows were open and the rain was coming in.

I walked out of the room along the stone passageway and the steps that led to the back staircase. Then I walked up three flights of stairs, to our flat at the top of the house, to find my mother.

She was in the kitchen making tea. Annabel, who was visiting from London, sat at the table holding a cigarette.

“I thought I heard elephant footsteps,” Annabel said, when she saw me. I didn’t look at her.

“What have you done to my room?” My mother had her back to me. She was pouring water into the teapot. Eden sat on the floor, practising his handwriting.

“I did nothing. Annabel put everything in a box.”

“Why?”

“A guest wants it. Would you like a cup of tea?” She put the pot on the table and sat down.

“Why don’t you put the guest in one of the rooms on the first floor?” I asked, standing with my arms crossed. I had the feeling she had done this to spite me.

“He wanted the quietest rooms in the house. You can stay in one of the others if you want.”

“I can’t sleep there.” It was true; some nights I would hear the sound of opera music below us. I would sit up in bed and listen. I heard what sounded like a party coming from the guest sitting room on the first floor: voices and the clink of glasses, a fire crackling and someone’s laugh. But when I looked, walking slowly down the stairs, the room went quiet. It was dark and there was no one in it.

“I’m sorry, darling, but we need the money.”

“He’s not going to like that dungeon when he sees it,” Annabel said. I liked Annabel; she brought the city with her.

“He’s a writer,” my mother said.

“A writer?” Annabel said. “You didn’t tell me. Who is it?”

My mother was mixing butter and honey with a knife on her plate. She looked confused.

“Well, what did he sound like?” Annabel asked.

“Who?”

“The writer.”

“I never spoke to him. A woman phoned and made the bookings.”

“His wife?” Annabel asked.

“How long is he planning on staying?” I asked. I sat down at the table with them. I wanted some tea.

“She said until Christmas.” She spread the mixed-up butter and honey on a piece of bread and cut it in half. I took one of the pieces.

“Do you think he’s famous?” Annabel asked. “I do love a star in the house.”

* * *

Annabel took Eden and me to see Fantasia. When the film ended she said she fancied a sausage roll. We drove to the shop, but it was closed. I remembered it was Sunday night, and I had two lots of maths homework to do. We drove home in the drizzle.

When we arrived back at the house there was a woman standing outside the door. The rain was thicker now and she had wedged herself in the corner of the doorway, trying not to get wet.

At first I thought she was the crazy woman from London, asking to use the loo. During the summer holidays I spent a week with Annabel in London. In the middle of the afternoon a woman rang the bell. When Annabel said hello, the woman asked if she could use the loo. “Is she mad?” Annabel asked me, and we peeked out of the window to see what she looked like. All we saw was the back of her, bright yellow hair and a skirt suit that made her look like a stewardess. Then she came back the next day and asked again.

“Hello!” the woman by the door shouted to us as we were getting out of the car. “Are you Lucy?”

“No, I’m not,” Annabel said.

“Do you know where she is? I’ve been ringing the bell for at least ten minutes but no one’s answering.” She was wearing a shiny black raincoat and high leather boots.

“The bell is broken.” Annabel grabbed Eden by the wrist and walked quickly towards the door, as though they were crossing a busy street. “Are you here for a room?” she asked, as she opened the door and let her inside.

“Yes,” the woman said as she tried to brush the raindrops from her coat. “I phoned the other day about two rooms.” Then I knew who she was, the one who wanted the quietest ones.

“Oh, for the writer?” Annabel turned to me with a bounce and said, “Be an angel and find your mother, will you?” I stood there. They were both looking at me. I was trying to leave but I couldn’t move. I felt so heavy.

“Well, hurry up,” Annabel said, and gave me a push on the back that got me going.

The staircase was long and made of dark wood. I walked slowly. The air was thick from the rain.

My mother was sitting on the sofa in our sitting room, a cup of tea in her hand. She had her back to me.

“There’s a woman downstairs.”

I could see the top of her head jerk up.

“Christ,” she said. Then she stood up and looked at me. “Don’t come up behind me like that.” She had spilled her tea; it was running down her arm and onto her shirt. She held the hand with the cup out as though it were being pulled by a string.

“Get me something,” she said.

“There’s a woman downstairs waiting for you,” I said again.

“I have to change,” she said, unbuttoning her shirt. “It’s one of my favourite shirts, you know. Run down and tell her I’ll be right there.”

I didn’t go back downstairs. I went into the kitchen to get something to eat. There were three baked potatoes on the stove that were still warm. I took one and cut it in half and put salt and pieces of butter in it, and then I closed it back up and waited for the butter to melt. I stood there with my hands wrapped around the potato. My stomach hurt. I thought about the polar bear in the zoo, the way he walks back and forth against the bars of his cage, back and forth, up and down. Every day he must wonder, How did this happen, and when will it end?

Chapter Two

My mother woke me at six for school the next morning. She sat on the edge of my bed and rubbed her hands in a circle on my back. “Do you want an egg and soldiers for breakfast?” she asked. I pretended to sleep so she would keep rubbing. “I’ll bring you a cup of tea.”

When she left, I got out of bed. It was still dark outside. I opened my wardrobe to get my uniform, but it wasn’t there. I went into the kitchen to see if it was hanging over the stove; it wasn’t. I went to the bathroom and found it in the laundry basket surrounded by socks and dirty knickers. I picked it out. It looked awful: crumpled and smelly, the white shirt nearly grey, two buttons missing. I threw it on the floor.

“I can’t go to school today.” I yelled this at my mother. I was already angry because I really thought she would try to make me wear it. She would think it was funny, breaking the rules.

“Why not?”

“My uniform is too dirty. Look at it! It’s all dirty and wrinkled. I can’t wear it.” This was true; we were not allowed to go to school in dirty clothes.

“Wash it now and you can go after lunch, then.” She sat at the round wooden table, eating her egg. She was wearing a short nightgown with a sweatshirt pulled over it and her old dirty flat moccasins. Eden was already dressed and sitting quietly and straight in the chair next to hers, carefully dipping a strip of toast into his egg.

“Eat your breakfast before it gets cold.” A place was set for me: a brown egg, sitting in a pink eggcup, a piece of brown toast cut in strips in a saucer. I sat down to eat. We were all very quiet; it was a grey morning and the rest of the house was still asleep.

Eden raised an arm and threw the piece of toast that he had been examining to the floor.

“What did you just do?” my mother asked.

He was staring at the floor, blowing his cheeks out, his face turning red. He didn’t answer.

“He’s choking. Oh, my God, he’s choking!” She pulled him off his chair and banged him on the back. She always thought he was about to die.

“Get off of me!” he yelled, flinging his thin arms at her. “There was white on it!”

“What?”

“The white got on it! You didn’t cook it enough!” he said. His face was still red.

“Well, why didn’t you just pick it off?” she asked, trying to calm him down.

“Because he’s scared of it,” I said, leaning forward to look at him. “Aren’t you? Last night he wouldn’t walk down the stairs because he saw a ball of dust floating around and he started shaking. Didn’t you?”

“Stop it. I’ve already got a headache, so just don’t you start too,” my mother said, loudly. We went silent. She took her cup of tea and stood up. “You are a ridiculous child, Eden. What do you think the white is going to do to you?”

“I don’t like it.” He looked at the ground.

“He’s choking, he’s choking!” I said, in her panicked voice. This made him laugh.

“Right. I’m going to put my coat on. Then we’ll be off, so get ready. I’ve got a headache now.” When she spoke like this she was trying to sound like a different mother. She left the room to get her coat.

My brother stood next to his chair. I sat across the table from him. His uniform had been washed and ironed. His straight brown hair was combed over to the side; he had his school hat in his hand. He looked perfect.

We were alone. I ate my toast and swung my legs under the chair, humming.

“Aren’t you going to school today?” he asked me.

I stuck my finger in my egg, walked around the table, and wiped it on the back of his navy blue jacket. He saw me coming; he stood still, his eyes wide, he let me do it. He dropped his hat and opened his mouth. I ran out of the room.

* * *

I went to the bathroom and filled the sink with warm water and soap. Too much soap, but I wanted it clean. I was feeling mean; my breath was short. First I washed the white shirt, then the blue dress in the leftover water. That was something my grandmother had taught me: never waste water or toilet paper. She had caught me once, leaving the tap running while I brushed my teeth. She slapped my fingers and turned it off tightly, saying, “That’s what those American girls all do.” She knew about them, the Americans; she had married one, a businessman with three daughters.

I scrubbed the collar together and the sleeve cuffs that had pencil marks on them. Everyone complained about the uniform, but I liked it.

* * *

At the school I went to in London, before we moved here, we were allowed to wear whatever we liked. My mother dressed me in striped overalls and boots. I had short hair. It had been long, past my shoulders, until her friend Gary, the hairdresser, came over. “Let him cut your hair,” my mother told me. “He’s the most fashionable hairdresser in London. He cut Mick Jagger’s hair last week.”

It was the end of the summer; the air coming in through the windows was still damp and warm. I was used to staying up late with her friends, doing what they wanted, fetching ashtrays, putting the kettle on, and now getting my hair cut. I sat on a stool. It took a long time; they were smoking and talking. I must have fallen asleep because I didn’t see it until the next morning when I went into my mother’s room. She was in bed asleep and he was next to her. They were under the covers, naked. I could tell. The room smelled. The mirror was on the floor, leaning against a chair. I sat down to look at my hair. It was short, messy, like a boy’s. I was so angry. I had lost something. I started crying, right there on the floor, with the hairdresser in the bed.

“It looks really great,” Gary said, leaning up on his elbows, his bare chest showing.

“It’s ugly,” I said. That word “ugly” felt so right. Square and heavy.

“Stop feeling so sorry for yourself, it’ll grow,” my mother said, laying her face on his chest. I thought she liked to embarrass me in front of men. It made her seem more like an older sister than a mother. She was twenty seven then and I was eight.

I kept thinking about how she said “feeling sorry for yourself.” Those words were like a slap, and every time I heard them in my head I felt myself blush. I sat on the floor of my room with my legs crossed and just sat. My mother came in and asked if I wanted to go out for breakfast with them. I shook my head. She told me my hair looked “really great.” I didn’t say anything, and she came over and kissed me on the top of my head. When I knew they were gone I jumped up and ran to the mirror again. I liked to watch myself cry.

Later, when I began to feel calm and watery, I went to the kitchen and ate some Weetabix with milk. I streamed honey over it and waited for it to get soggy. I ate it and then I really panicked.

I was starting my new school in a week and I remembered how I wanted to look: straight hair in one plait down my back, flopping when I walked. A little careless, a little brazen: a girl from a safe home. I had thought about it all summer, every day. A plait down my back, tidy, with a hair elastic, not just a beige rubber band. Sometimes a ribbon. I would wake up early and do it myself, I was good with hair, but I would tell everyone my mum did it. “She makes me,” I would tell them.

The first day at my new school I was standing at my cubbyhole, organizing my markers. A girl walked over and asked, “Are you a boy or a girl?”

I was too embarrassed to tell my mother what the girl had said. The next day I wore a dress and sandals. “Why aren’t you wearing your boots?” my mother asked. “They’re ugly,” I said, my new word.

“They’re cool,” she said. “All my friends love them.”

* * *

I wrung the water from my uniform and hung it in the kitchen where it was warm. My mother had taken Eden to school. Everything was still on the table, freezing into place. I wondered what I could do until my uniform dried. I still had my maths homework, but I didn’t want to do it; I would probably never do it. I picked up the plates, eggcups, teacups, and spoons from the table, put them in the sink, and washed them.

* * *

Her name was Patricia. “Patricia,” she said. “Not Patty.” She came to make sure everything was arranged and to look at the rooms. To make sure there were enough sockets for an extra lamp and the typewriter.

“There’s no phone in the room,” Patricia told my mother.

“No, everyone uses this one. There won’t be a queue now.”

My mother pointed to the pay phone above the desk. We were standing in the front hall by the desk where the postman leaves the post. Patricia looked at the phone. Her eyes stayed on it for a moment, and she nodded slowly.

“Is he writing a book?” my mother asked.

“Yes. I’m helping with the research. I must find out what time the train leaves. I have to get back to the office.” She said the word “office” like it was a really important place.

“Are you his wife?” my mother asked. I was wondering if my mother thought she was pretty.

“Not yet,” she said quickly. She stuck her thumbnail in her mouth and stood for a moment looking at the ceiling.

“Oh, there is one thing I wanted to ask you.”

“What’s that?” My mother seemed worried. She thought Patricia was going to ask her to lower the price of the rooms.

“Come here and I’ll show you.” She led us towards the back staircase. I thought she was going to take us to the rooms downstairs, but she turned into a narrow passage that led to the coatroom and to a tiny toilet that only flushed once a day. I thought, Why would she have come back here? She walked fast; she knew where she was going.

“These!” she said loudly, and pointed. She looked like a child. “These! I just absolutely love them.” She was pointing at four charcoal drawings of horses hanging on the wall. We’ve had them forever; they were in my mother’s bedroom in London. “I have always loved horses,” she said, turning to my mother.

“Do you have a horse?” I asked. I wanted her to pay attention to me.

“Not a real one, but I had a collection of toy horses. My whole room was covered in posters of them.” She took a deep breath, as though she were trying to smell them, and stood quietly for a moment.

Toy horses. Posters of horses. That type of girl, that type of woman.

“And that’s why I thought it would be nice if I could move them into our room.” She was staring at them.

“You mean move them into your bedroom?” my mother asked.

I had never really noticed the drawings here in this thin, dim hall, but suddenly I wanted them in my room too.

“They look good here,” I said loudly to my mother.

“Since he’s staying for such a long time and those rooms are so bland. These would cheer it up a bit.”

I looked at the drawings again. They were not cheery. In one, the horse looked like a growling dog.

“We have some other pictures in the attic. The ones Granny sent of the pears and flowers.” My mother said the last part to me. She was getting nervous. A boy my mother had been friends with in school drew the horses. The thought of them in a stranger’s room bothered her.

“No, no. I know just what you’re talking about. My mother has prints like that too. He wouldn’t like them, but he would like these, I know. And he should have something to look at. It must get boring just sitting over a desk all day, banging at the typewriter.” She held her hands out in front of her and wiggled her fingers as though she were typing.

My mother stood staring at the pictures. Then she said, “How would we get a nail into those stone walls?”

“I think they look good here,” I said again. I thought of the boy. He was ten when he drew them. My mother thought he was dead now.

“I can figure it out,” Patricia said. “Just lend me a hammer.” But I could tell, by the way my mother crossed her arms, looking over at her with half closed eyes, that she would not let her have them.

* * *

I was still wondering if my mother thought she was pretty. I did. In London, sometimes, we had an all-girls night. My mother’s two best girlfriends, Annabel and Suzy, would come over; they’d open a bottle of wine and talk and cook. I would sit on the kitchen floor near the stove, where it was warm, and listen.

“And what do you think of that new one he’s got?” my mother asked Suzy one time.

“She’s such a bore. She came round the pub last Wednesday. All she did was smoke my fags and put her lipstick on and wipe it off and then put it on again. Three times she did it. I was counting. Three times, at the table, I promise you; I’m not joking.” She was rolling a joint.

“Was he with her?” my mother asked.

“He didn’t sit next to her.”

“Well, is she pretty?” My mother was really listening. She had her spoon in the sauce but hadn’t stirred it once.

“I think she’s boring, but the men probably like her, all they see is that bright hair and her little bottom. They have the simplest tastes. Be an angel and get me a glass of water, will you?” she asked me.

“You know what she looks like?” Annabel had it figured out; we were all listening now. She poured herself some wine and said, “A shampoo model, she looks like a bloody shampoo model.” They thought this was the funniest thing they had ever heard. They said it all night about everyone, even the men. “Now he,” they said, bursting, “he looks like a shampoo model!” Then they’d start laughing again.

I looked through a magazine to find the shampoo ads. Girls with waist-length hair, brown or blonde, a middle parting, walking though a field of daisies. Clean, neat, quiet noses, smelling like the magazine perfume. They were pretty. I didn’t see what was so funny. Patricia looked like one of them.

Reading Group Guide

Twelve-year-old May, her free-spirited mother Lucy, and her younger brother Eden live in a ramshackle oceanfront bed-and-breakfast on one of England’s southern shores. Having left the hustle-bustle of London two years earlier, all three are slowly trying to adjust to the more provincial surroundings of this rural seaside town. While Eden creates fantasy worlds out of shellfish, rocks, and tree stumps, and Lucy tries to sustain her fun and passionate side while saddled with two young children and a less-than-thriving business, May struggles with her own adolescent frustrations, disappointments and sense of “outsideness.”

When a charming writer and his high-maintenance editor take two rooms at the inn a few weeks before Christmas, new opportunities seem to accompany them. Romantic tensions—whether real or imagined—throw the balance of the house off, and the surprise appearance May’s playboy father right before Christmas just adds to the brewing confusion.

Galaxy Craze’s debut novel, By the Shore reads like a tightly-crafted diary of a young girl—chock full of remarkably astute observations about adult insecurities and foibles, as well as the workings of the human heart.

1. After reading the book, why do you think the author writes “it can be dangerous to live by the shore”? Who do you think are “the lone fish”? (p. 1) What do you think the starfish at the end of the novel (p.231) represents?

2. Why do you think May feels so trapped? What is she trapped in? “I thought about the Polar Bear in the zoo, the way he walks back and forth against the bars in the cage, back and forth, up and down. Every day he must wonder, How did this happen, and when will it end?” (p. 5) Who else is trapped in the novel and why?

3. The relationship between May and her mother is very complicated. When Lucy needs to assert her authority, she takes on a maternal tone, but quite often, she treats May like a younger sister, rather than her daughter. She allows May to see things that most parents would protect their children from (sexuality, drugs, alcohol). How, if at all, do you think this child-rearing style may feed May’s combative, sometimes mean, personality?

4. What part does Eden play in the novel? Is he merely May’s foil? Or much more

5. May is often telling her anecdotes from the position of an invisible witness—from another room, a hallway outside a door, or hiding in the shadows—always hoping the people she is eavesdropping on are talking about her. Why? What is she hoping to hear? How does this seeming “invisibility” affect how she interacts other people in the novel like Eden, her mother, Patricia, and Rufus?

6. Even at the young age of twelve, May seems to have figured out the power that men have over her mother—the way Lucy affects an indifference but can’t see it through in her actions. (p. 16) How does May, in her own way, replicate this “game” with the people she comes into contact with in her life? Is anyone immune from it?

7. How does Rufus throw off the balance in the bed and breakfast? How does May deal with it?

8. Throughout the novel, May seems to recognize the attraction Rufus has for her mother, and vice versa. (e.g. p. 67) What stops her from intervening when things start to spin out of control and misunderstandings emerge?

9. Throughout the novel, May assumes a “pawn-like” role of running interference in adult lives: between Patricia and Rufus, her mother and Rufus’ she even gets “played” by her schoolmate Barbara Whitmore who only wants to invite her to her party because she “knows” pop star Jet Jones. How much of the “games” does May willfully “play along” with? Why does she do it?

10. What do you think “haunts” May? (p. 80)

11. Why is May so drawn to Patricia? On p. 97, May astutely describes the difference between Patricia and her mother: “Some people risk everything. They’ll get dressed up, wait on the door-step with open arms. ‘Take me, I’m yours. You can have me entirely,’ they say. Other people just turn around, quietly folding their wings across their chest.” Which approach is preferable to May? Which do you think she will adapt as her own, judging from what we see in the novel?

12. What does the author mean when she writes, “this is how we save ourselves. Flinging the knives.” (p. 161)

13. In Chapter Fourteen, May’s father Simon shows up unannounced. “Things are changing, things are changing. My father’s here from London; the world is coming to me.” (p. 145) What chain of events leads to May’s declaration that she doesn’t want him to stay for Christmas after all. In fact, she wants him to leave. (p. 208) What does she realize about their relationship?

14. What gives May the courage to tell Pauline and Emma that she doesn’t, in fact, know Jet Jones? (p. 200) Why is she no longer afraid? (p. 211) What was she afraid of in the first place? What does she mean by “How could I have ever been afraid of this world, which has given me everything I need?” (p. 230)

15. he story of the starfish Eden finds at the end of the story—presumed dead, put in the water, and then eventually revived—could be seen as a metaphor for what larger theme of the novel? (p. 230-231) How important is it that Eden found the starfish?

Other Suggested Reading:

1959 by Thulani Davis; Twelve by Nick McDonell; She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb; Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver; What Are You Like? by Anne Enright; The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold