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When the World Didn’t End Reader’s Guide

By Guinevere Turner

When the World Didn't End by Guinevere Turner


1. At the start of When the World Didn’t End, Guinevere Turner drops us in the middle of the Family with unusual matter-of-factness. How does that narrative choice affect the reader?

2. Guinevere’s mother says, “It’s complicated” when asked why, despite all reason, she believed she was going to Venus. Why do you think the adults in the Family follow Melvin Lyman? Why do the kids believe?

3. The relationships among the girls and women in the Family are close yet sometimes fraught—one week Guinevere is in Jessie’s good graces, the next week she feels like an outsider. What are the roles—spoken and unspoken—for women and girls in the Family? And why does Guinevere ultimately reject these roles?

4. What does Guinevere’s upbringing reveal about love and attachments? How do the traditional and legal structures of a nuclear family serve her or work to her detriment?

5. Guinevere’s diary plays an integral role in the story. What purpose does the act of writing in her diary serve for her? What purpose does it serve for the Family?

6. Were there any elements of the story that you found relatable to your own life? Did that relatability surprise you?

7. What about the 1960s and 1970s could cause a group like the Lyman Family to exist? Why do you think people are susceptible to groups like this? Could you see that happening today?

8. Once she leaves the farm, Guinevere experiences terrible violence at the hands of her stepfather, and she is horrified when her mother seems to side with her husband once she learns the truth. After reading all the reasons Guinevere felt it wasn’t worth telling anyone at the time (“This was what happened when you told the truth”), why do you think it’s important that she tell her story now? What effect does reading this unvarnished truth—as difficult as it can be to read—have on you as a reader?

9. Guinevere said of her mother, “We both knew she only saw what it served her to see.” In what ways did her mother, and many of the other adults in her life, fail her?

10. In her last visit to Martha’s Vineyard before she leaves for college, Guinevere begins to settle in to the idea of returning to live with the Family instead. What do you think of her epiphany about ultimately needing to leave? Why do you think she was conflicted about whether she made the right choice?

11. Throughout the memoir, Guinevere expresses differing levels of awareness about growing up with the Family, from being horrified by an exposé on cults in Newsweek (“I thought the story was fascinating. Who were these crazy people who would blindly follow a man?”) to questioning whether to share the full extent of her upbringing in her college essay (“When I pictured people reading [my story] and feeling scandalized, or fascinated, it made me cringe. It felt cheap to use my story that way.”). How does her awareness shift over time? What aspects of living with—or outside of—the Family make it understandable that she was conflicted about leaving?
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