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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions


1. Francine Prose uses the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem Spring and Fall: To a Young Child as the centerpiece for her novel. How does the novel reflect the themes of the poem? How does it diverge from it?

2. Why do you think she named the novel Goldengrove and also the bookstore owned by Nico’s father?

3. Talk about the symbolism of the characters’ names, especially Nico and Margaret. Is Margaret real, or is she a manifestation of Nico’s own lost innocence?

4. Compare and contrast the two sisters. What qualities do they share? Why does Nico idolize Margaret? What makes both sisters special?

5. What is the significance of the song “My Funny Little Valentine” in the novel? What influence does it have on Nico? What does it tell her about her sister and about herself?

6. Early in the story Nico muses, “I already knew that you couldn’t live in a family without a lie or two as a cushion between you and the people you loved.” Do you agree with this? How did Nico’s lies to her parents about Margaret and herself impact events as they unfolded?

7. Nico’s father described Aaron, Margaret’s artist boyfriend as having a screw loose—the one that holds it all together. Do you agree with this? And how does he hold the story together—and in what ways?

8. What do you think of Aaron? Is he really a creep or just a brokenhearted teenager suffering as Nico does?

9. Nico and her father have a conversation about the bookstore, and about her father’s desire to recommend the right book to help people cope with their problems. Do you think books can help people to do so? Or are books just a form of escape from such problems?

10. One of the secondary stories in the novel is the tale of Williams Miller, his followers, and The Great Disappointment. How is this story reflected in the lives of each of the characters? What is Nico’s father searching for when he takes her on a hunt to find the spot where Millerites expected to meet their angel? What does he find? What does Nico discover?

11. What is Nico’s relationship to Aaron? How does it progress through the novel? What does Nico ultimately learn from it about herself, her sister, and Aaron?

12. The name of the town they live in is Emersonville. Why do you think Francine Prose chose this? What is the significance of the name Mirror Lake? What is Nico’s relationship to the lake?

13. Nico tells us, “Aaron warned me about looking in the wrong direction. But how did you know what direction was wrong?” How would you answer Nico?

14. How do Nico and her family handle their grief? How have you or someone you know coped with tragedy?

15. What role does Nico’s father’s employee and friend, Elaine, play in the story? How does she get through to Nico? What makes Nico ultimately trust her?

16. Did the novel ring true as a portrait of lost innocence? What other books or movies have you seen or read that touch on the same themes? How does Francine Prose make her portrait unique?


by Francine Prose

  • Publication Date: September 1, 2009
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • ISBN-10: 0060560029
  • ISBN-13: 9780060560027