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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

The Big Shuffle

1. When the Palmer family is in crisis it's decided that Hallie will leave school to take over and not her brother Eric, who is a year older. In your family are tasks typically divided into what is considered "men's work" and "women's work"?

2. The neighbor lady, Mrs. Muldoon, has a daughter in Arizona who wants her mother to come and live out there. Only Mrs. Muldoon has spent her entire life in town and doesn't want to leave. What are some of the pros and cons of having family members living nearby?

3. Do you belong to a community, organization, or close circle of friends that can rely upon each other when in need?

4. Are there any drawbacks to being part of such a tightly-knit circle?

5. What do you think is the worst possible age to lose a parent?

6. Hallie and Louise identify a trend in the Palmer family where the girls tend to go berserk during their teenage years while the boys stay the course. In your experience is it more common for boys or girls to have a difficult patch as teenagers, or the same for both?

7. Do you think it's possible to forecast how your friends or family members would react to a family crisis like the one Hallie experiences, or is it impossible to tell with people until they're actually in such a situation?

8. Louise leaves home shortly after her father dies. Do you think that some people can be so overwhelmed by circumstances that they know deep down their presence will only make things worse and so it's in everybody's best interest that they remove themselves, at least for a period of time?

9. Have you ever had a relationship or a bad experience in a particular place and felt that the only solution was to leave?

10. At a certain point Hallie wonders if something she may have done has caused tragedy to strike. Do you believe that good and bad things happen in life based on our behavior?

11. Do you think the fact that Bernard and Gil are gay will influence the sexual identity of their adopted daughters?

12. When Craig drops out of college Hallie worries that he's jeopardizing his future. In our society is it best for all students capable of doing the work to finish college?

13. Olivia's boyfriend Ottavio turns out to be the jealous type and flies into a rage when she strikes up a friendship with a man. Is this type of situation between men and women understandable, and a testament to how much one person loves the other, or is it irrational and destructive to a relationship?

14. When Olivia takes up with a younger man, her son views this as scandalous. Why don't people seem to care as much if a man dates or marries a much younger woman?

15. Hallie goes out on a date with Auggie and it turns out to be a one-night stand. Do you find there's a double standard -- that when a young woman is seen to be playing the field she's looked upon as having loose morals, whereas such behavior is viewed as more acceptable and normal from a man?

16. Going out with Auggie seems to help Hallie realize what she really wants in a boyfriend. Is it necessary to date a number of individuals as a way to compare and contrast in order to determine the right person for a monogamous long-term relationship?

17. Hallie holds much of her grief inside because she's trying not to upset her younger siblings. Yet it seems to sneak out later in a fight with Craig and a panic attack while on her date with Auggie. Are there times when it's best to try and conceal your emotions or is this almost always unhealthy?

18. While going through some papers, Hallie discovers that her mother married and gave birth to her older brother earlier than she'd led the family to believe, largely because she regretted having dropped out of school. Is it okay for parents to keep some secrets if they're trying to set a good example for their children, or is honesty always the best policy?

19. Even though Hallie cares very much for Pastor Costello, she's extremely angry upon discovering that he has feelings for her mother. In your experience, do most children react negatively to the prospect of a parent striking up a new relationship after a death or divorce?

20. Hallie was under the impression that Pastor Costello was gay, and basically embarrasses herself when she finds out that he isn't. Have you ever made a mistake about someone's sexual identity that resulted in an awkward moment or situation?

21. Hallie and Craig finally decide to have a serious one-on-one relationship. How old must a person be to recognize true love and function in a mature relationship, as opposed to just being caught up in an infatuation or what's often called "puppy love"?

The Big Shuffle
by Laura Pedersen

  • Publication Date: October 31, 2006
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 387 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345479564
  • ISBN-13: 9780345479563