Reading Guides

Weeping Underwater Looks a lot Like Laughter
Michael J. White
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In Weeping Underwater Looks a Lot Like Laughter, a man reflects on his youth to come to terms with his greatest love and most tragic loss. George Flynn meets two extraordinary girls, the Schell sisters, soon after his family moves from Davenport to Des Moines. The eldest, Emily, is an incredibly talented and beautiful actress whose ability to enchant is only matched by her desire to rebel against her parents. Katie, her younger sister, is witty and wise beyond her years, but sadly, stricken with Multiple Sclerosis. As George's feelings for Emily grow, so does his friendship with Katie whose old soul draws him to her in ways he may never fully understand. When a tragic accident tears this threesome apart, Emily and George must search for forgiveness yet struggle not to lose each other.


Michael J. White

Michael J. White was born and raised in St. Louis, though he also spent several years in Chicago and Des Moines. He has taught English in South Korea, Peru, Poland, and New York City. A Columbia MFA graduate, he lives in Denver.


Warning: Some questions contain spoilers.

  1. How does George and Zach Flynn's relationship grow over the course of the story? Do you sense that one looks up to the other and, if so, who and why? Do their roles ever shift throughout their lives?

  2. Why do you feel Mrs. Schell is so strict with Emily? Do you believe Katie's condition plays a factor in this behavior?

  3. Emily Schell is one of the most sought-after girls at St. Pius High School. George Flynn is a complete stranger that she takes under her wing soon after his arrival in Des Moines. What do you believe first brought these two together?

  4. How do George's parents influence his relationship with Emily and the Schell family?

  5. After botching up a boat motor theft, Marcus Panozzo blames "the new kid from Davenport" for his delinquent behavior. Word spreads quickly through the town and Mrs. Schell assumes that George is a bad influence and a troubled teen. Why do you think Emily refuses to stand up for George's reputation and end Mrs. Schell's negative opinion of him?

  6. Sadly, the Schell household begins to unravel soon after Katie's accident. How does Katie's death affect each member of the family differently? How do you think the family would've reacted if Emily had been the daughter lost to Saylorville Lake?

  7. How does Mrs. Schell's past contribute to her attitude towards others and her outlook on marriage?

  8. What reason could Emily have had for allowing the student body to believe that she lost her virginity to Peyton Chambeau?

  9. Throughout the course of the story, George and Emily's physical relationship becomes more aggressive and experimental. Do you feel their intimacy decreases as their sexual encounters increase? If so, why is this happening? If not, what do you feel ultimately pulls them apart?

  10. George jokingly asks Emily how she "fit[s[ into the whole scene." How does Emily fit into the different "worlds" of their little town? High school? Family? How is Emily as much of an outsider as George is?

  11. Emily teases George, "Just promise not to marry my sister, okay? At least not until she's eighteen." George is drawn to Emily almost immediately, but his connection with Katie is also undeniable. How might George and Katie's relationship have developed if she hadn't drowned? Do you believe her age and disease were the main reasons why George never reciprocated Katie's affections? Which Schell sister do you believe would have been the right partner for George, and why?

  12. Other than George, Thomas Staniszewski seems to have been Katie's only close male friend. Possibly even her first romantic interest. Why do you think Katie kept the news of her clinical trial at the Mayo Clinic from George? What else do you think Thomas knew about Katie that she refused to share with anyone else? Was Thomas aware of her feelings for George?
  13. Katie advises George not to show his affections so easily. Do you think she was giving him advice on how to court Emily, or were her words of wisdom somehow an indication of her own feelings towards George?

  14. Sadly, the truth behind Katie's drowning will forever remain a mystery. Do you think it is possible that the incident may not have been an accident at all? Could Katie have staged the accident in an attempt to gain George's attention? Could Katie have wanted to choose her own fate rather than having a medical procedure or a disease decide for her? Plagued with both MS and unrequited love, what did Katie have to live for? Discuss.

  15. The themes of first and last loves pepper the pages of this book. We also see recurring examples of how a relationship can completely change an individual for better or worse. Compare and contrast the pairings in this story (Mr. Finey and his wife, Mr. & Mrs. Schell, Katie and George, George and Emily, Zach and Rachel, etc.) and how love transforms them.

  16. Emily asks, "[i]sn't it possible to love someone and not tell them everything about your life before you met them? Is that what marriage is—an agreement to confess every mistake we ever made, every thought or memory that passes through our heads?" Discuss the secretive nature of the Schell woman and the effect it has on the men around them.

  17. Why is George consumed with images and thoughts of Katie during his first sexual experience with Emily at Saylorville Beach? Was the impulsive encounter a response to the loss they both felt or simply the emotion that had built up between them? How do sex and loss go hand in hand in this story?

  18. What were George's reasons for finally sitting down and recapping the details of the accident with the Schells? Why do you believe Emily insisted on letting her parents believe one version of the story while she knew George recounted the incident differently? How did this conversation provide closure for any or the parties involved?