Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Canary Island Song includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Robin Jones Gunn. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
1. In the first chapter, Tikki tells Carolyn that she needs to get her own life. In what ways has Carolyn given up her life? How has each of these been resolved by the end of the story?
2. How does Carolyn’s experience with Ellis affect her budding relationship with Bryan Spencer? How does emotional baggage affect your relationships? Read these verses and reflect: 1 Peter 5:7 and Romans 8:28.
3. What does Bryan’s reaction to his stepsister’s issues show about his character? What specifically has changed from the time he was a teenager?
4. Mother-daughter relationships are prominent in this story. What are the areas of strength in the relationships? What could the mothers and daughters work on to improve the relationships? Do you see any of these areas of strength or weakness in your mother-daughter relationships?
5. When Carolyn pampers herself with a manicure and pedicure she’s congratulated for treating herself well. If congratulating others for showing themselves kindness was a customary practice everywhere, how do you think our lives would be affected?
6. How does the adage “Live by the living and not by the dead” relate to Bryan’s life? How does it tie into Carolyn’s life? For Bryan, read Romans 6:4. For Carolyn, read Lamentations 3:31–33.
7. When Carolyn is learning flamenco, she tosses away a “bad apple” of anger from her life. This freed her to reconnect with God. Is there a poison in your life that God would have you toss away so that you can draw closer to him?
8. How do you think Tikki’s trip to the Canary Islands affected this new step in her relationship with Matthew?
A Conversation with Robin Gunn
You chose a specific scripture quotation from Deuteronomy 4:9 to open your novel. What is it about this verse that caused you to select it for Canary Island Song?
I love the direction given in Deuteronomy for us to teach to our children what we have seen and heard in our lifetime. That’s what happens between these three generations of women. Opening up our hearts and being truthful to the closest women in our lives allows space for healing to begin. That open, healed space provides room for love to grow. This is what happened to Carolyn when she finally told her mother the truth.
In the “From the Author’s Notes,” you mention that you’ve made three trips to the Canary Islands. Other than these trips, did you do much research on the Canary Islands and their culture while writing this book?
Yes. It’s amazing what you can find on the internet! I also skimmed several travel books about the Canary Islands and while I was there I bought books in English about Christopher Columbus and one with local recipes. I think that’s why food became such a big part of this story, because I had all the pictures and recipes to keep reminding me of the fabulous meals I enjoyed on each of my visits.
You also mention in “From the Author’s Notes” that you and your friend Anne were both working on book projects while you were in the Canary Islands. Do you find the experience of writing in the company of a good friend to be different from writing alone? Which do you prefer?
I’d have to quote Winnie the Pooh on this one and say, “It’s so much friendlier with two.” Different books require different levels of concentration. I’ve been writing for so many years that to have the opportunity to be around a true Sisterchick while creating a new story was an exquisite treat. My favorite part of the process was when we would gather in the evening after a day of moving words around and fulfilling way for a writer to pull the curtain on that corner of the imagination than to simply turn off the computer and go to bed.
Where did you learn of the custom among the women of the Canaries to congratulate their sister when she “shows herself a kindness”? Were you ever congratulated for showing yourself a kindness on your trips to the islands?
This scene in the book is just about exactly what happened to Anne and me. We were on our way to the grocery store and decided to step inside a salon. We both had manicures and when we left the two young women in the salon “congratulated” us for showing ourselves a kindness. We loved the way that made us feel! For the rest of our visit we continued to show ourselves simple kindnesses and got in the habit of congratulating each other. It was amazing to meet so many women in the Canary Islands who all seemed to look out for us and for one another in this way.
Strong mother-daughter relationships are featured prominently in this novel. Why did you choose to explore these types of relationships? What about them is so important to you? Do you have a daughter? If so, were you influenced by your own relationship or experiences as a mother?
My daughter is twenty-five years old. She is an amazing, strong woman and she and I are very close. Over the past few years our conversations have deepened in many ways. I’m sure our relationship influenced me a lot as I was writing, even though I didn’t intentionally set out to write a generational story. As a matter of fact, in the original draft of the first few chapters I don’t think Tikki existed. Once I got into the story I realized Carolyn needed to have a daughter in her twenties and because of my daughter I had lots of relational ideas to draw from. My mother and my daughter both live more than twenty-five hundred miles away. I dearly value our visits.
Is there a particular character in Canary Island Song to whom you feel the most connected? If so, which character and why?
This might sound funny but the first character that came to mind when I read this question was Abuela Teresa. I think I feel connected to her because she reminds me of my grandmother who passed away seven years ago. My grandmother lived in Louisiana and always delighted in visits from our family. Those visits were infrequent because we all lived on the West Coast. My sister and I made several trips to see her together and we have great memories of those times. Now that I live on an island I feel the vast space of all those miles and I really treasure visits from my family.
Even though Carolyn’s mom has no experience with dance, she is still excited to take flamenco lessons. You wrote the dance section with such vivid detail. Did you take lessons while you were in the Canary Islands?
Yes! As I mentioned in the photo section, Anne’s friend set up a series of lessons for us. The experience was powerful and emotional because neither Anne nor I have ever felt coordinated at such things. But we tried and we learned and our instructor infused us with the thought that we were strong women and should carry ourselves in a way that demonstrated that strength. We took only three lessons and we know that it takes years to truly learn to dance flamenco. Just having a tiny taste of that world was a wonderful experience. On one of our last nights on the islands we went to see a world-class flamenco group from Madrid. The performance was astounding. You could feel the explosive power of the dance with each stomp and click of the heels. Amazing!
As you were writing this novel, was there ever any doubt in your mind that Carolyn and Bryan would end up together? How about Tikki and Matthew?
This was one of those stories when I knew how it was going to end before I knew how it was going to begin. At least I partly knew. I knew Carolyn was going to end up with Bryan because Bryan has been a character from the Christy Miller series that has stayed in my thoughts for years. I always wondered why he never remarried. It intrigued me to know Bryan’s background and how he got to be where he is now. I knew I wanted to write about him in order to let my imagination tell me Bryan’s story. I didn’t know Tikki and Matthew would end up together. Those two surprised me. I do think they are a terrific match, though. Matthew is another one of the Forever Friends in the Christy Miller books and I did want him to end up with someone extra special. I’m glad it was Tikki.
On your website (www.robingunn.com), you mention that you had not originally planned on becoming an author. What first inspired you to begin writing?
The inspiration came from a group of young teens who were reading a bunch of books on a church camping trip. I read a few of the books they’d brought with them and was concerned about the content of what they were putting into their thirteen-year-old hearts. I encouraged them to read books more suited for their age and they challenged me and said I should write a book for them. As a matter of fact, they’d help by telling me what to write. And they did. It took two years to finish the first Christy Miller book and I wanted to give up after the first ten rejection letters from publishers. But those girls kept pressing me onward and once that first book was accepted for publication we had a big party to celebrate. That was in 1988 and I haven’t stopped writing.
More specifically, what was your inspiration for writing Canary Island Song?
My inspiration was similar to what prompted me to write Under a Maui Moon. I wanted to write about a woman in midlife who needed to get her heart back. The older I get the more women I meet who have been through really difficult life situations. I’ve watched many of them curl up and let their lives become small. It’s tragic, really, because as long as they are alive there is life to be lived and daily adventures to experience.
In writing this story I wanted to explore what might happen with an average woman who is dealt a blow but finds that God is drawing her out of hiding and into a new, restorative season of life. I think it’s a beautiful thing to be around a woman who has been through a terrible battle and managed to come out of it scarred but undefeated. She is strong and confident and exudes an unmistakable sense of joy as if she and Jesus have a secret. That sort of beauty is irresistible to those who are in the midst of the battle. We all need that picture of hope. That’s been my prayer as I was writing this book—that the women who read this book might find the courage to ask God to give them their heart back. He still has dreams for you, you know. As Aunt Frieda would say, “A donde el corazón se inclina, el pie camina.” To where the heart is inclined the feet will follow.