Reading Group Guide
1. In the opening scene, after Ruby violently pushes her brother Aaron, she reflects, "this is helplessness, this is guilt, this is fear. This is the true impetus for change." What is your reaction to this statement? Is it a valid observation in the context of the novel? Do you agree or disagree in general that these feelings motivate people to change?
2. Discuss Ruby's relationship with each of her three brothers. Do you think Ruby would rather be "one of the boys" or is she more interested in carving out her own role in the family? Do you think Ruby is a good sister?
3. Josef Bronstein's past is described as "an envelope, tightly sealed, that [Ruby] carried but could not open." Is Ruby able to unlock her father's mysteries or does he remain unknowable to her? Does this metaphor resonate with you at all? If not, try to come up with another metaphor that creatively and accurately describes how a parent's past relates to you.
4. How do the Bronsteins deal with challenging situations and tragedy? In your view, do they remain strong and cohesive or in danger of splintering? Who is the most expressive member of the family? Who is the most honest? Who is the most compassionate?
5. Josef Bronstein lives by the maxim, "Life is the highest good... Whenever possible, choose life." What does this phrase mean, coming from a Holocaust survivor? What relevance does it have to a family that is forced to endure so much death? What does it mean to Ruby at the end of the novel?
6. On her trip to Czechoslovakia, Ruby grapples with questions of faith and cultural identity, such as "What does she know about anti-Semitism?" and "What does it mean to be Jewish?" She also confronts the troubling idea that her father no longer believes in God, yet remains faithful to Jewish customs. What do you think is the most important lesson Ruby learned on this trip abroad?
7. What significance does the word "survivor" have in this book? Who is a survivor and who is a casualty?
8. Why do you think Ruby is more comfortable talking to her camp counselor, Michael Fischer, than her friend Tim or any of her other friends?
9. In the final scene, Ruby insists that what has happened to her family is "not okay." What do you think of this outburst of emotion from Ruby? Is she justified in her anger?
10. How do members of the family respond to the disturbed and unpredictable Abe? Do you see any change in Ruby's feelings towards her brother by the end of the book?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Try one of the Bronstein family favorite dishes. Look up a recipe for palacinky, or Slovak crepes. Or be adventurous and try noodles, nuts, and sugar!
2. Look up more information on the concentration camp Terezin, where Josef Bronstein was a prisoner, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terezin
3. Visit the website of the North American Brain Tumor Coalition to learn more about glioblastoma, the variety of brain tumor that Josef and Nathan Bronstein both suffered from, and read about the most recent news in brain tumor research. http://www.nabraintumor.org/index.php