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When Grace Little, proprietor of the Little Island Inn off the coast of Maine, finds a cryptic note left behind by her late mother, she believes the final words to be funeral instructions. But the final comment, have fun, leaves her perplexed as she awaits the return of her far-flung family. Though her adult children face their own troubles and challenges, something more than family unity binds them together: a long-buried secret that haunts them all. As they come together to remember the past, they learn that sometimes all it takes is a few simple words to reveal what really matters.
Katharine Britton teaches at the Institute of Lifelong Education at Dartmouth College, at the Writer's Barn in Shelburne, Vermont, and at the Writer's Center in White River, Vermont. She has written three screenplays, one of which is a Moondance International Film Festival winner, and has a master's degree in creative writing from Dartmouth College. She is the author of one previous novel, Her Sister's Shadow, and lives in Vermont. Visit her online at KatharineBritton.com
- In the beginning of the story, Joy has just seen her only child off to college. In this moment, how does Joy identify herself? What qualities does she use to describe herself, and how does this change after her weekend at the Inn? As you get to know her family members, how do you think they see her?
- Why is Joy the only character who narrates her parts of the story in first person?
- Joy feels like Alice in Wonderland, falling down the rabbit hole out of control. Do you think she intends to leave her husband forever when she packs up all of her clothes and belongings into her car to take to the Inn?
- Describe Tamar. Is she a likeable character? Does she have any redeeming qualities? How do you feel about her by the end of the book as compared to the beginning?
- There are three sets of twins in the Little family stemming from the maternal side. What is the significance of twins and pairs in the story? Do you believe there is a special bond between twins that other siblings don't share?
- Edgar says, "An island, especially a small one, isn't right for everyone. It requires planning and time to get to and from Little Island. This is as it should be. But some people don't like boundaries, feel hemmed in, don't do well with them." How does the setting of a small island help shape the story of this family? How would this story be different if it were set somewhere else?
- Motherhood is a central theme in this story. Describe Joan, Grace, Joy, and Tamar as mothers. How are they similar and how are they different? What do you think the author is trying to say about motherhood by weaving their stories together?
- Why doesn't the Little family ever talk about the crash?
- What was your reaction to learning Tamar was the driver in the crash? Why do you think Roger took the blame, and, if you were Roger, would you be able to forgive Tamar?
- Does Joy feel guilty for keeping the secret about Tamar driving in the accident? If she hadn't, how do you think everything would have turned out differently for the family?
- After Joy jumps into the tide, she muses, "How many of us live lives driven by rules and assumptions that we never test?" and realizes "we are only as stuck as we allow ourselves to be." Do you believe in this statement? In what other ways is Joy held back by her rules and assumptions (besides her water phobia)? In what ways are her siblings and parents also "stuck"?
- Grace believed her mother wanted her memorial service to be fun, and worries she won't be able to honor her mother's wish with her family that weekend, stating "'Fun' was not a word she associated with their gatherings." Near the end of the book, after meeting her estranged aunts, Grace realizes having fun is a matter of perspective. What is fun to Grace? To her aunts, husband, and children? Does the memorial service turn out to be fun?
- The note Grace finds left by her mother that says "Flowers, By the Water, Have fun!" turns out to be a to-do list for Joan's life, not her death. What list would you make for your own life right now? What would the list have been like when you were a teenager?
- Roger uses the metaphor of building a house to describe the dynamic of his family after the crash, suggesting that after the secret of Tamar's fault is revealed, their house will stand a little straighter. How does this metaphor resonate with Joy? Do you like this metaphor for the Little family? Does it hold true in the end?
- What do you think future reunions hold for the Little family at the Inn?