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Morning Glory Reader’s Guide

By Sarah Jio

Morning Glory by Sarah Jio


Questions and Topics for Discussion


New York Times bestselling author Sarah Jio imagines life on Boat Street, a floating community on Seattle’s Lake Union’s home to people of artistic spirit who for decades protect the dark secret of one startling night in 1959.

Fleeing an East Coast life marred by tragedy, Ada Santorini takes up residence on houseboat number seven on Boat Street. She discovers a trunk left behind by Penny Wentworth, a young newlywed who lived on the boat half a century earlier. Ada longs to know her predecessor s fate, but little suspects that Penny s mysterious past and her own clouded future are destined to converge.


Sarah Jio is a frequent contributor to major magazines, including Real Simple, Glamour, Cooking Light, and Redbook, and is also the health and fitness blogger for She lives in Seattle with her family.


You mention in a note at the beginning that your research for this novel was a bit different — you actually rented a houseboat to use as your office while writing! Did delving so deeply into the characters’ experiences in this way change your writing process at all? Did it lend something special to the book in any way?

Yes, I was extremely fortunate to be able to rent a lovely little houseboat on Seattle’s Lake Union while writing this book. At first I worried it would be a frivolous splurge, but the experience ended up being integral to the writing of this story. For instance, I could have never known the intricacies of floating home life without that experience-from the way a houseboat sways gently on a windy day on the lake, to how mallard ducks waddle up to your door on a lazy Sunday morning. It all went into the book!

As a mother yourself, what was it like to write about a woman who loses her only daughter and husband in a terrible accident? Was it painful to imagine her experience in such detail? How does harnessing your own fears in your writing allow you to tell a richer story?

Writing about such loss as a mother is definitely hard (and I did it before in Blackberry Winter), but I find that as difficult as it is to do, what comes out on the page is very real and honest, because as a mother of three young boys myself, I can put myself into the shoes of my character and feel her pain. Recently, for the New York Times, I wrote about this concept of harnessing my own fears as a person to use in my writing. I think that when you can do it, it makes for gripping, authentic pages.

Several characters in Morning Glory have difficulty expressing their feelings to others, even to their loved ones. What made you want to grapple with these issues of honesty, openness, and intimacy?

What a great observation, and so true of my characters. And isn’t it also true of life and families-to varying degrees? I think to some degree, we all keep some secrets from the ones we love most (small or large), and I think while the reasons vary, we do it most often from fear of judgment or losing love or approval. In a perfect world, there would just be openness without that kind of fear. But the world is not perfect. So we, and my characters, do have to keep some things close to our hearts.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on my seventh novel with Penguin, one I’m tremendously excited about. It’s a bit different than any other story I’ve told-stay tuned for more!

  • Why does Ada feel like she needs to leave New York? Is she going to Seattle for the “right reasons,” as Dr. Evinson puts it?

  • When Jim meets Ada for the first time he says, “No matter what, home is home. It’s where you belong.” How is this concept played out over the course of the book? What is “home” for Ada?

  • How does their mutual loneliness draw Jimmy and Penny together? What do the two have to offer to each other?

  • Collin tells Penny that he lives by a certain Mark Twain quote: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Do any of the other characters live this way? What prevents people from “throwing off the bowlines?”

  • The details of both Ada and Alex’s pasts are revealed slowly over the course of the novel. How does this parallel Ada’s discoveries about Penny? Why do you think the author chose to structure the novel this way?

  • What kind of kinship does Ada feel with Penny? Does trying to solve the mystery of her disappearance help Ada heal from the loss of James and Ella? Why does Ada blame herself for their deaths?

  • What role does faith play in the novel? Does Ada’s relationship with Alex alter her faith at all? Why are “the signs” she asks for so necessary for her to move on?

  • What do you make of Dexter? Did your opinion of him change as you read? How so? Why did he treat Penny so poorly? Did Penny truly understand how he felt about her?

  • How does the notion that “some of life’s most beautiful things grow out of the darkest moments” become a theme of the novel? Do you agree?

  • Do Penny’s suspicions about Dexter’s “indiscretions” in some way free her to fall in love with Collin? Is she reluctant to leave Dexter in some ways? Why? Why does Collin sail away from Penny on the dock that night?

  • Were you surprised to discover who Penny’s attacker was? Did you understand his motivations?

  • Water is often a symbol of rebirth and new beginnings. Is that the case in Morning Glory? How so?

  • Discuss the epilogue. Were you surprised by its revelations? What kind of a future do you imagine for Alex and Ada?
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