The Box Children, by Sharon Wyse
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Reading Group Guides


Adult Guide

These discussion possibilities come out of my thoughts as I wrote The Box Children. I'm interested in how this writing, and literature in general, make it possible to think differently or more deeply about things in our own lives and in our culture.

  1. You can't really ever know what's going on inside of someone else's family. Lou Ann's family looks "perfect" from the outside; other mothers send their babies to Loretta for care and training. Often, after a horrible crime, you'll read in the paper the neighbors' descriptions of the perpetrator: "He was such a nice, quiet man, he would never have done that." There's considerable denial that something that looks good to outsiders could be really awful, until things get visibly out of control. In some families, problems stay just under the outside-visible level. In Lou Ann's diary, she describes situations that outsiders don't see, until the trouble can no longer be hidden. Is it harder for children if things fall apart or if they don't?

  2. How much do you think a child understands about what is going on around her or him while it's going on?

  3. I think children cobble together a universe that has what they need in it. What needs of Lou Ann's are met by writing? By the box children? By Alva Higgins and Wyn Rue? By Earl? By Lonnie? By her mother, father and brother?

  4. The nature of one's family is like air to those born into it--you've never known anything else and you assume that's how everyone else is. Secrets, alcoholism, and abusive behavior may be inhaled along with caretaking, delicious meals, kindness, and love. One aspect of "coming of age" literature is a new awareness of self as separate from family. How does this dawn on Lou Ann?

    I think the idea that this awareness is complete when one becomes an adult is a myth. How has your own awareness developed, and it still in process?

  5. Miscarriages are a huge area of non-public grieving and great distress, loss, and shame. In this book, as in life, there are outcomes. Talk about them. What awareness do children have of their parents' losses, even if they are never discussed? What's different about suffering that is and isn't talked about?

  6. It could be said that Lou Ann belongs to Mother, and Will belongs to Daddy. There's also the separation of women/inside and men/outside. What does it mean for Lou Ann to find safety and privacy outdoors?

  7. Lou Ann has a strong moral and ethical sense, distinct from the strict rules and taboos she is raised with. Do you have memories of your own moral awareness as a child?

  8. What makes Mother both likeable and hateable? What lets Daddy off the hook or condemns him? What makes both their behaviors understandable?

  9. When Lou Ann reads magazines, it's the ads she really takes in, that affect her understanding of what life offers. Is this true for children today? Grownups?

  10. The year was 1960, but in rural America much was the same as it had been for the past 20 years. How much of a time/reality/values schism still exists between rural and urban parts of the country?

I'll add or change these topics over time. I would love to have readers' ideas for discussion as well--please send them through the Readers' Comments section. Thank you.

Sharon Wyse