Questions and Topics for Discussion
When a man and a woman get married, things can get complicated. When they have children from previous marriages, “complicated” can become the understatement of the year. Joanna Trollope explores this truth, and reveals the laughter and tears, the tension and the tenderness, that live behind the statistics and stereotypes about stepfamilies—in her most involving and compelling novel yet.
ABOUT JOANNA TROLLOPE
Joanna Trollope, a member of the same family as Anthony Trollope and a #1 bestselling author in England, is the author of the novels Girl from the South, Next of Kin, Marrying the Mistress, Other People’s Children,The Best of Friends, and A Spanish Lover, as well as The Choir and The Rector’s Wife, which were both adapted for Masterpiece Theatre. Writing as Caroline Harvey, she is also the author of the historical novelsThe Brass Dolphin, Legacy of Love, and A Second Legacy.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONSIt’s often said that “Blood is thicker than water.” How does this truism relate to the step-family? Discuss the ways in which being related by marriage, rather than blood, can be advantageous.
All three of the families in Other People’s Children have their strengths and weaknesses. Which family, at the beginning of the book, would you rather belong to? Did that change by the end?
Do you think Elizabeth was inflexible as a result of a lifetime on her own? Or did you find her well-adjusted and too secure to adapt to a troubled household?
All of the men in this book show a certain weakness of character. Discuss the similarity in their shortcomings.
How do you think Tom should have dealt with Dale? Did you find it surprising that this seemingly placid and affluent family would fall apart?
Nadine obviously loves her children, yet there’s no doubt she’s ill-suited to motherhood. What should happen in a situation like this one? How much blame does Matthew share for not protecting his children from her volatility?
Do you think Tom’s inability to stand up to Dale, and Matthew’s failure to take a stand on behalf of Josie are similar in any way? Why is Tom’s weakness fatal to his new relationship? Why does Matthew’s failure not doom his new family?
When Lucas’s relationship with Amy ends, it’s clear that he has been conditioned to put Dale’s needs above his own, just as Tom has. Did you feel hopeful that moving away from Dale would help him to change?
Discuss the complexity of Becky’s loyalty to Nadine, despite her mother’s instability. Do you think Josie handled Matthew’s children as well as could be expected, given their complicated issues with Nadine?
Divorce is an extremely upsetting event for children. How could Matthew and Nadine have made theirs easier on the children? Discuss the issue money plays in this story. In what way does it contribute to strife in Matthew and Nadine’s homes? How does it ease things for Rufus? Or does it?
Josie’s determination and flexibility were not enough to save her marriage to Tom because of a lack of feeling. Elizabeth has finally met, in Tom, the man who makes her feel—yet she can’t make the relationship work either. Did Dale doom both of these marriages? Pauline’s ghost? Or did Tom? Or is Trollope suggesting a more complex set of issues?