1. The entire novel takes place over the course of about three hours. Discuss what techniques the author uses to create a sense of urgency over the course of the story.
2. The author is very sparing in the details she reveals about Joan’s life prior to this day at the zoo. Why do you think the author does this? What effect does this have on the storytelling?
3. Do you agree with the way that Joan explains the situation to Lincoln?
4. Why do you think part of the story is told through Robby’s point of view? Are we meant to sympathize with him?
5. What do you make of Joan’s decision not to help the woman with the crying baby? What would you do if you were in Joan’s shoes?
6. Why do you think Robby is so respectful of Mrs. Powell? Is it important that Mrs. Powell remembers him? If she hadn’t, do you think he still would have let her go? Why do you think Robby lets Mrs. Powell go?
7. What do you make of Joan’s decision not to follow Robby’s suggestion to go toward the sea lions? Do you agree with her choice? What would you have done?
8. Over the course of the novel, Joan has prioritized the survival of her son, choosing not to help others when given the opportunity. Why do you think she ultimately decides to put her own safety at risk to help Kailynn when Kailynn is cornered by Mark and Robby? Does Joan choose to help Kailynn only because she no longer has Lincoln by her side?
9. What do you make of the ending of the novel? Do you think Joan survives?
10. What role do stories—television shows, movies, family anecdotes—play in the novel? How do stories shape these characters and their actions (for better or worse)?