Penguin.com (usa)

Reading Guides

 

INTRODUCTION

History has a way of bringing the past to life, conjuring up people and places that have long since disappeared. Living in the past is also a way to flee the present, to experience and perhaps live in a world that is not complicated by emotion and regret. Livvy could have never imagined that her life would take a course that was so distant from the dream she had for herself—her hopes to become an archeologist, to lead a cloistered yet fulfilling life. But she becomes pregnant and unexpectedly finds herself far from home and her family, married to a man she does not know, as the country is on the brink of war. As she explains it, "in one fleeting moment I stripped away the petals of my future, let them catch wind, and fly away."

At first, Livvy feels almost as though she is in exile as she struggles to come to terms with her feelings of loneliness. "Ever since I had been quite young," she admits, "I could resist those who went against me, had been able to deny their opinions. . . . My inner strength came from an ability to handle, then separate myself from adversity." But the strength and intellect that allowed her to break through the barriers faced by most American women in the 1940s are frustrated by life on a prairie farm where there is no one to talk to, few books to read, and nowhere to go.

Slowly she takes to exploring her new environment and immersing herself in the history of the Plains. She begins a friendship with Rose and Lorelei, two Japanese American women confined at a nearby internment camp, and begins to find stimulation and comfort in the companionship.

Meanwhile, through radio and newspaper reports and her friendship with Rose and Lorelei, Livvy becomes aware of the history being made in her own lifetime. Stories of Nazi concentration camps, reports of enormous American losses in the Pacific, and the realities of Rose and Lorelei's lives remind her daily that her own troubles seem small in comparison. But when Livvy plays an unwitting role in the escape of two German POWs, she finally realizes that she, too, has a role in the history being made around her.

A history buff, Livvy yearns to know more about the circumstances behind this mysterious event. Though she has forged a strong friendship, she suddenly realizes that she knows very little about Rose and Lorelei and the dangerous plot—a scandal to which she had suddenly become an accomplice. She observes, "Rose, Lorelei and I had started swimming together on the surface of the water. We had at times dipped below the surface as we went along. But we hadn't taken a deep dive, hadn't delved into those dark waters, the ones where we kept hidden the unseen frailties that lie in wait."

Through her relationship with Rose and Lorelei, Livvy slowly begins to accept her present life, finding a new appreciation for the kind of freedom she had always taken for granted and a growing love for her simple, yet kind husband who is devoted to her happiness. She realizes that the most valuable lesson in life is how each person creates her own history day by day.

 

ABOUT ANN HOWARD CREEL

Ann Howard Creel is the author of two award-winning young adult novels, Water at the Blue Earth and A Ceiling of Stars.

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH ANN HOWARD CREEL

Until this book you have been known as a writer of young-adult fiction. Is writing for an older audience different?

Whether it's a book for children or for adults, when I sit down at the keyboard, the writing process is essentially the same. The same story elements—character, plot, setting, style, voice, etc.—must all be present. The difference comes from finding the voice of a child versus that of an adult. Subject matter may differ, too, however children's books involve serious topics now more than ever before.

What could a young reader learn from Livvy's story?

A young reader might learn that mistakes don't always hinder, that growth may follow mistakes, and that happiness may be found in unexpected places and in the company of unexpected people. Livvy's outlook on her mistake began to change as the book progressed, as Ray's love began to touch her, and as she started to see the special qualities that shimmered beneath his surface.

Some readers might disagree with Livvy's decision to stay with Ray instead of returning to Denver. What would you say to them?

Livvy ended up staying because in Ray's presence she learned to love and trust again. I wanted the choice to be a difficult one without a clear or easy answer, and certainly for some women, leaving might have been a better choice. I enjoy the disagreement on this point, because in my experience, each person views it differently based on his or her past and inclinations. It makes for heated discussions, too.

You have said that the novel was inspired, in part, by an actual event that occurred in a Nazi POW camp. Can you tell us more about this incident, and why you found it so compelling? Is Livvy herself based on a real-life person?

Livvy is fictitious, however I based Rose and Lorelei on three Japanese American sisters who were interned at Camp Amache and who aided in a POW escape. They were later prosecuted for treason. I latched onto this story because the aid rendered by the women seemed to be motivated by love, the results were tragic, and the story, although widely sensationalized in the past, has largely been forgotten, even in the area of Colorado where it took place.

You have also said that you wanted to write a novel about an arranged marriage. Why?

I'm fascinated with relationships and marriage to begin with, and arranged marriages, which have been a common occurrence throughout history, are particularly compelling. I've always wondered how two strangers, thrown together most often by their parents, would manage to open up the doors to each other. Given the daunting task of maintaining a good marriage in any circumstances, I wondered how often love ripens between people who didn't know each other to begin with.

Although Livvy calls herself a "practice rug," she is determined to find her own way in the world and wants to put off marriage until after she has settled into a career. What kinds of role models were available to independent-minded women like Livvy?

During World War II, women entered college and the work force in numbers never seen before. Women did everything from assemble fighter planes to organize Red Cross disaster relief to serve in the military in several newly established women's corps. Role models ranged from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to Rosie the Riveter.

Can you recommend any other books for readers who are interested in learning more about rural Colorado and its history, or about American life during World War II?

Although there are a host of excellent books available about America during the war, the following painted a vivid picture of life during that time period: V is for Victory: America's Homefront During World War II, by Stan Cohen , The Homefront: America During World War II, by Mark Jonathan Harris, Franklin Mitchell, and Steven Schechter, Prisoners without Trial: Japanese Americans During World War II, by Roger Daniels, and Nazi Prisoners of War in America, by Arnold Krammer

What are you working on now?

I continue to be fascinated by our country's history and enjoy weaving together fact and fiction. Unlike other authors who tell me they often begin with a character or a plot, my inspiration usually comes from history and from a particular place and time. My current endeavor takes place in the West and is an exploration of family ties, love and loyalty, and how they relate to human connectedness to the land.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Was Livvy's father right to insist on her finding a husband before she gave birth? What other options were available to her? What would have been the repercussions of these options?
     
  2. It takes Livvy awhile to warm up to Ray, let alone love him. Do you think she was too hard on him? Were you surprised that she could come to love him at all?
     
  3. What are some of the qualities that make Livvy and Ray such well-developed characters? How does Creel make them human? How does each surprise you?
     
  4. Creel reveals the story behind Livvy's pregnancy gradually; we don't find out what really happened until more than halfway through the novel. How does knowing she is pregnant change the opinions you had begun to form about her?
     
  5. Why is it so easy for Livvy to make friends with Rose and Lorelei? How are their situations similar?
     
  6. How did you feel about Rose and Lorelei after they used Livvy to help the POWs escape? Did they betray Livvy's friendship? Did you, like Livvy, feel any sympathy toward them because of their feelings for these soldiers?
     
  7. Do you think the girls befriended Livvy because they knew she could help them with their plan? Why or why not?
     
  8. What is the significance of Rose and Lorelei's fascination with butterflies?
     
  9. What did you learn from this book about World War II and its effects on the home front?
     
  10. Did Livvy make the right choice in remaining with Ray? What was she giving up by not returning to Denver? What do you think you would have done in her situation?
     
  11. Would you attribute her whirlwind romance and pregnancy to grief over her mother's death? Why would a sensible, self-assured, independent woman "strip away the petals of her future to let them catch wind, and fly away?" Why is this metaphor so suitable to the book?