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Perennials Reader’s Guide

By Mandy Berman

Perennials by Mandy Berman


Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. One of the earliest scenes in the novel recounts Rachel getting her first period, and a conversation she has with her mother that explores her newfound responsibilities as a woman. Why do you think this anecdote is told so near the start of the book?

2. In many ways, Rachel and Fiona are opposites. A thirteen-year-old Rachel describes Fiona as “a nosy but brutally loyal girl” (p. 5), while Rachel keeps her night with Matthew a secret from her friend. Rachel is raised by her single mother, in New York City, while Fiona is from a wealthy nuclear family in Westchester. What do you make of their attraction to each other, despite their differences? What bonds them?

3. After Mark and Denise’s argument about the police station incident, Denise begins to cry, and then remembers advice from her mother: “Don’t you ever cry in front of a man. They’ll take your weakness and build themselves up with it” (p. 38). But Denise then admits that “she’d broken that oath a long time ago.” How do you think Denise’s belief that a woman shouldn’t show a man her weaknesses may have informed her relationship with Mark? How might it have informed the way she raised Rachel and what she has taught Rachel about relationships with men?

4. Marla is different from the rest of Helen’s friends, both in upbringing and personality. Helen reflects that this might be because Marla has had a less insular upbringing than Helen’s childhood friends: “Being sheltered from the bad things didn’t really bring you any more joy. It just made you dull” (p. 56). Do you think this is true? Why or why not?

5. Fiona is described as “uneasy all the time, squirming within herself” (p. 77). She is plagued with a sort of dissociation from her body, feeling like it does not belong to her. How does she compare her body to Rachel’s, Helen’s, and those of the other women in the book? Are her comparisons of herself to them purely physical, or is there something else she feels they have that she lacks?

6. After Sheera and Mikey get in trouble, she decides to tell Chad the truth about their going to the island. Why do you think she does this? Do you believe she made the right decision, considering Chad’s strong reaction?

7. After Helen finds Rachel and Yonatan in the shed, Rachel begs Helen not to tell her sister about it. Helen keeps her word. Do you think Helen should have told Fiona about finding Rachel and Yonatan in the shed? Why or why not?

8. On Visitors’ Day, Amy goes back for John’s phone to “check the thing that she never checked” (p. 155). Why do you think it was on this day, of all days, that she decided to confirm her suspicions about John’s cheating on her?

9. Mo is a virgin, though after Sheera falls off the horse and Micah is sentenced to death, Mo finally gains the courage to come on to Nell. What about the catastrophes of that day do you believe gives Mo this courage? Does being away from home have anything to do with it?

10. Nell thinks of herself as a “champion for confused girls” (p. 197). What does she mean by this? How does her relationship with Mo parallel the one Nell has with Sasha?

11. Jack resists Rachel’s advances twice, and then finally gives in to her on the third try. How do you explain Jack’s inner conflict in regard to sleeping with Rachel? What about his behavior later, during the scene in the woods? Why does he fire both Rachel and Chad?

12. Fiona is embarrassed to hear about Rachel’s firing secondhand. That night, she cries when her camper Billie sings “Eleanor Rigby” at bedtime, and later, Fiona wakes Billie up to have her sing it again. What do Fiona’s actions, and the song itself, say about her emotional state in that moment?

13. When Helen and Sarah sneak out and ride horses through the woods, Sarah confides in Helen that she and Danny Sheppard slept together. Afterward, “Helen couldn’t explain why, but she felt uneasy now about Danny, about the way he had told Sarah to keep things between them a secret” (p. 245). What is the significance of Sarah’s confession to Helen, especially in the context of this particular night?

14. The hospital chapter is told through the perspectives of Nell and Mo. Why might the author have decided to narrate this monumental scene from an outsider’s point of view?

15. Were you surprised by the book’s ending? Why or why not? What does each character take away from the final events of the book?

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