This reading group guide for This Is Home includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Lisa Duffy. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.Introduction
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Sixteen-year-old Libby Winters lives in Paradise, a seaside town north of Boston that rarely lives up to its name. After the death of her mother, she lives with her father, Bent, in the middle apartment of their triple-decker house. Bent’s two sisters, Lucy and Desiree, live on the top floor. A former soldier turned policeman, Bent often works nights, leaving Libby in her aunts’ care. Shuffling back and forth between apartments—and the wildly different personalities of her family—has Libby wishing for nothing more than a home of her very own.
Quinn Ellis is at a crossroads. When her husband, John, who is back home after serving two tours in Iraq, goes missing, suffering from PTSD that he refuses to address, Quinn finds herself living in the first-floor apartment of the Winterses’ house. Bent had served as her husband’s former platoon leader—John refers to Bent as his brother—and, despite Bent’s efforts to make her feel welcome, Quinn has yet to unpack a single box.
For Libby, the new tenant downstairs is an unwelcome guest, another body filling up her already crowded house. But, soon enough, an unlikely friendship begins to blossom as Libby and Quinn grow a little more flexible and begin to redefine their understanding of family and home.
With gorgeous prose and a cast of characters who feel wholly real and lovably flawed, This Is Home
is a nuanced and moving novel of finding where we belong. Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. For the novel’s epigraph, Lisa Duffy chooses a quotation by the poet Muriel Rukeyser: “My lifetime / listens to yours.” Why do you think she picked this particular line to embody the novel? Discuss how you think it relates to the themes and characters of This Is Home.
2. The novel alternates between Libby and Quinn’s points of view in every chapter. Do you think this was an effective storytelling technique? Also, why do you think Libby’s chapters are narrated in the first-person point of view, while Quinn’s chapters are written in the third person? What overall effect did this have on your reading experience?
3. Libby begins her side of the story with a story about her father, Bent: “The year I turned ten, my father shot the aboveground pool in our backyard with his police-issued pistol” (3). Why do you think she begins with this particular anecdote? What does it tell us about both Libby and Bent?
4. Rooster Cogburn, the ninety-seven-pound shelter mutt, is just as much of a character in the story as his human counterparts. Discuss Rooster’s role in the story: How does he bring the characters together, and how does he stand as another symbol for family?
5. “Paradise is like that, though; everything stuffed in tight” (5). While Libby may be speaking literally of her town in this statement, consider the sentence with “paradise” taking a more figurative meaning. Do you agree? In what ways might the setting of This Is Home
constitute a kind of paradise for its inhabitants?
6. This Is Home
shows a wide range of different types of families: Libby, Bent, Desiree, and Lucy; Madeline, her twins, and Quinn; Quinn and John; Flynn and Jimmy; Madeline and Lucy. What defining traits do all of these families share? Discuss any other nontraditional families in the book that you can think of.
7. “And in my mind, I’d think, dying isn’t the only way someone disappears” (29). Consider this statement of Libby’s. What do you think she means? Do you agree?
8. From relationships between veterans and their wives to Desiree’s resisting a life as a mother, how do the characters in This Is Home
respond to—and resist—traditional gender roles?
9. “I said John is a good soldier. Doesn’t mean he was a good husband” (132). Consider this statement of Bent’s. How do you think we change in the many different roles we embody in a lifetime? Discuss.
10. Compare Quinn’s attraction to Bent to Libby’s attraction to Jimmy. In what ways are they similar?
11. Photographs carry great sentimental value to the characters in This Is Home
, especially Quinn. Why do you think photos are so impactful to her?
12. Jimmy reads some sections of Tim O’Brien’s novel The Things They Carried
aloud to Libby. Consider this particular passage: “You feel an intense, out-of-the-skin awareness of your living self—your truest self, the human being you want to be and then become by the force of wanting it. In the midst of evil, you want to be a good man”
(204). How might this passage relate to Bent, Jimmy, and John?
13. Why do you think it’s so important for Quinn for her to see the puppy that John gave away? What does her willingness to finally go look at him signal about her character development?
14. Consider the meaning of “home” as it relates to the novel. How does the meaning shift from character to character? Discuss how “home” can carry both positive and negative connotations for the characters of This Is Home. Enhance Your Book Club
1. Consider reading Lisa Duffy’s first novel, The Salt House
, with your book club. Do you find any themes that are similar to those in This Is Home
2. Tim O’Brien’s short story collection The Things They Carried
is an important book for Jimmy. Consider reading with your book club; how might its stories of war remind you of the characters in This Is Home
3. Visit the author’s website at LisaDuffyWriter.com to learn more about her and to read some of her short fiction, essays, and interviews.
4. What is your own definition of home? Consider making a photo album, scrapbook, collage, or other art project that shows your personal definition of home, and then sharing it with your book club.A Conversation with Lisa Duffy What inspired you to write This Is Home? How did you visualize the vivid and wide cast of characters?
The inspiration for this story wasn’t one specific thing. It was a couple of things that stuck with me over a period of time. I had read an article in the newspaper about a Massachusetts National Guard unit deploying to Iraq for a third tour. It spoke about the challenges of the multiple deployments from different perspectives—the soldiers going overseas and the spouses and children at home. Several years later, my daughter graduated from high school and some of her friends decided to join the service. Kids who had plenty of other options, but who wanted to serve. For me, the story began there, with a desire to explore the sacrifices and challenges of having to say goodbye to someone who is going to war, perhaps for long stretches of time.
As far as visualizing my characters, I tend to discover them as I write. Word by word, line by line. It’s never a process of visualizing the cast of characters first, and then writing. It’s finding them by writing the story.Besides writing your own stories, you also help others write their own. What have you learned about yourself as a writer from your experiences teaching?
I’ve learned through teaching that writers typically have a brutal internal voice. One that can often silence that great sense of intuition that every writer has when it comes to crafting their own unique story. Teaching has taught me to be patient with my own process. To be kind with myself when I’m struggling. Sometimes the best thing I can do is to get up from my desk and just leave the story alone for a bit. Come back to it a day or two later with fresh eyes and a renewed hope for what’s on the page.You live in the Boston area, where the novel takes place, and you render the area’s atmosphere so strongly and lovingly throughout the novel. Can you talk about why you chose coastal Massachusetts for the setting of This Is Home?
The novel is fiction, but I borrowed some pieces from my own life and went home to my roots for this book. I grew up in the middle apartment of a triple-decker twelve miles outside of Boston. My father was a policeman in town, and we had relatives living in the apartment below us for many years.
One of the things I love about people from this area is their allegiance to the town they grew up in. There’s always such a sense of pride, of identity and belonging. With an edge to it sometimes as well. A sort of “I can say anything I want about my hometown, but don’t you dare criticize” attitude. It doesn’t matter if the town is wealthy and idyllic or income diverse and crowded. Paradise, the fictional town in the novel, is both of these at the same time. Which is true of many towns in Massachusetts, both inland and up and down the coastline. It was true of where I grew up.
I tried to develop a tangible sense of place in the novel because I think most people feel strongly and deeply about where they come from. I think it’s true of how the characters in the novel feel about Paradise. I know it’s how I feel about my hometown. I guess this book is my best attempt at a love story to my childhood, my house, the old neighborhood.In your guest post for She Reads, you mention that you went back to school for writing at age thirty-four. Can you talk more about that experience and what drove you to pursue your dreams?
I always wanted to be a writer. I attempted my first novel when I was nineteen. I got the chicken pox and had to stay inside for two weeks so I wrote every day. Then, about ninety pages in, I realized it was awful. I kept writing, but it was always something I did in my spare time. And even then, it was sporadic. Then suddenly I was thirty-four and my third child started preschool, and I sort of looked up from life and realized that I wasn’t ever going to be a writer in the sense that I wanted to be if I didn’t put my energy in that direction.
I had an unfinished bachelor’s degree, so I went back to school part-time. I took some creative writing classes and when I completed my BA, I was accepted into the MFA program as a fiction candidate.
My kids were school age by then and I was working, so the whole process took me about six years, from my first day on campus to my last, but I enjoyed it. It was a gift, really, to be in that learning environment. I’d do it over again in a heartbeat.You are the founding editor of ROAR, a literary magazine supporting women in the arts. What inspired you to found ROAR? How has it helped you to connect the larger writing community—and, in turn, how do you think that has helped you?ROAR
magazine started in a publishing class at UMass Boston. I was working as a grad assistant, living an hour away from campus, raising my three children when I took the class. On a personal level, I was very aware of protecting my creative time while trying to balance the other roles in my life.ROAR
was a response to that. A desire to create a physical space where emerging women writers could publish their work. VIDA
had just come out with their count, and the conversation about gender and publishing informed that decision.
The experience was really valuable within the context of the literary community as ROAR
was really a team effort—a labor of love for our group of editors. It allowed me the opportunity to work with some extremely talented and inspiring people. We published four issues that we were very proud of, as well as an online component.
It was also enormously helpful to be on the other side of that table. I wasn’t a writer in that role but an editor working within a team of editors, having to accept or reject the work of other writers. I learned how subjective the selection process is and how editors really need to fall in love with a story to get behind it. Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with a story, it’s just not a good fit. That was helpful to keep in mind when I was sending out my own work and piling up a stack of rejections.How do you deal with writer’s block? What drives you to keep going when you figuratively “hit a wall” while writing?
I try not to think of it as writer’s block. That’s such a negative phrase. Words are important, especially the ones we tell ourselves. So that’s not something that’s in my vocabulary. When I’m at a difficult point in the writing process—say, starting a new story, which is always tough for me—I try to just show up every day and see what I can do. It’s too easy to let the demons of the blank page get in your head. Part of the job is to accept all parts of the creative process. Some days I’m going to write easily, and other days I might need to do a little digging. The trick is to just keep going. Stay the course.What are some of your favorite novels or authors? If you had to pick one that you think has inspired you the most, who or what would it be?
If I had to pick one, I’d say Anne Tyler. Breathing Lessons
is a novel I’ve read over and over and I still go back to it to see how it’s put together, how it moves through time. Even as I’m writing this I’m thinking of a handful of favorites that I reference often. But in terms of a favorite author with a body of work that I cherish, absolutely Anne Tyler.What do you like to do in your spare time other than writing?
I tend to be a homebody, so I’m fortunate that my home is my favorite place. We spend a lot of our spare time at home, with family and friends. My husband and I have six kids, from teenagers to adults. The older ones have spouses. We have a tidal river in the backyard, a gorgeous view. There’s always something going on. Boating and cookouts in the summer. Dinners and game nights. Everyone loves to cook and eat. We call it the last frontier because everyone brings their dogs and we have two labs, so it gets noisy and crowded and pretty chaotic, but we love it.Are you working on anything now that you’d like to share with us?
I’m working on a novel set on an island off the coast of New England about people who are brought together after an accident leaves a young girl orphaned. It explores the concept of insiders and outsiders and how these labels are formed and perpetuated.What do you most want readers to take away from This Is Home? What emotion do you hope lingers when they close the book?
I hope readers take away from it that they were happy to spend time with these characters and in this story. That’s the most I could ever hope for as an author.And, of course, what does home mean to you?
Home to me is the place where I’m most comfortable in my own skin. Where I can just be
, and that’s enough.