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Her Sister’s Shadow Reader’s Guide

By Katharine Britton

Her Sister's Shadow by Katharine Britton


Questions and Topics for Discussion

Lilli Niles is at home in her North London flat when she receives an unexpected call. Her elder sister, Bea—at the family homestead in White Head, Massachusetts—has just lost her husband, and she wants Lilli to fly home for the funeral.

Lilli, a painter, is preparing for her latest gallery opening. And more to the point, there are reasons she moved all the way to England to escape her older sister, reasons that have kept them estranged for decades.

But something in Bea’s voice makes Lilli think it’s time to return to New England, to the stately house she loved as a child, to the memory of a shared loss—and to a time when simple sisterhood was enough to overcome betrayal and resentment. In this emotional debut, Katharine Britton explores the divergent paths we take in life—and the turns in the road that ultimately bring us back to each other.



Katharine Britton teaches at Colby-Sawyer College in central New Hampshire. She has written three screenplays, one of which is a Moondance International Film Festival winner. She has a master’s degree in creative writing from Dartmouth College and lives in Vermont.


  • What did you think of Lilli when she was first introduced? Did your opinion of her change as the novel progressed?

  • What was your reaction when Lilli and Bea reunited after forty years? Did you anticipate a more emotional reunion? How would you have reacted in that situation if you were Lilli? If you were Bea?

  • On page 74 Lilli purchases an azalea for Bea something that would brighten up the house and cheer her up. Bea doesn’t seem to appreciate the gesture and informs Lilli that they usually purchase their plants at another store. What was your reaction to Bea’s dismissiveness? What do you think was underlying Bea’s reaction?

  • Discuss the differences between Lilli and Dori’s relationship, Lilli and Charlotte’s relationship and Lilli and Bea’s relationship. How does each of these relationships differ so significantly? Why do you think that is?

  • “Adults can stay up past midnight, drinking and singing at clam-bakes on the beach. Adults can take the train into Boston whenever they wish and spend the day chatting in smoke-filled rooms and riding on trolley cars. Ladies can wear gowns, lipstick, and high heels, put their hair up and waltz at the yacht club with Randall Marsh. Adults can make their own decisions. How could anyone think childhood was idyllic with all this waiting? Lilli wished her childhood well past” (page 95). What causes her to feel this way? When growing up, did you ever share Lilli’s attitude toward childhood? Do you ever wish you could be a child again?

  • What was your reaction to Blythe’s suicide? What was her mental state before Dori’s death? Why do the daughters decide never to refer to their mother’s death as a suicide?

  • Lilli recalls her mother telling her that, “true love always comes with the potential for heartbreak” (page 181). Do you agree with this statement? Does the statement ring true for Lilli?

  • In chapter 8 Bea announces that she and Randall have married. What was your reaction to this? Do you think Lilli really loved Randall? What do you think are his reasons for marrying Bea?

  • “‘Life’s a journey, Lilli, not a race.’ Bea’s voice was low, as though she had said this many times before and was tired of repeating it… This sister who had made everything in life a competition was giving up” (page 308). Is this a philosophy you agree with? Do you think Lilli lived by this creed? Did Bea? What are some ways a person can appreciate the journey of life every day?

  • The novel begins with Randall’s funeral and fills in details of his life as the story progresses. How do you feel about Randall in the end? Do you think his feelings for Bea and Lilli were genuine?

  • Throughout the novel, the story moves between the past and the present. Why does the author do this? What knowledge do you gain by the story being told in this format? Did you find that this style provides you with a better understanding of the characters?

  • Imagine Lilli’s life after the novel. How do you think it unfolds? What role does her past play in that life?

  • Discuss the title of this novel. Who is it referring to?
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