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I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl

I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl

A Memoir

  • reading group guide
At the age of fifteen, Kelle Groom found that alcohol allowed her to connect with people and explore intimacy in ways she’d never been able to experience before. She began drinking before class, often blacked out at bars, and fell into destructive relationships. At nineteen, already an out-of-control alcoholic, she was pregnant. Accepting the heartbreaking fact that she was incapable of taking care of her son herself, she gave him up for adoption to her aunt and uncle. They named him Tommy and took him home with them to Massachusetts. When he was nine months old, the boy was diagnosed with leukemia—but Kelle’s parents, wanting the best for her, kept her mostly in the dark about his health. When Tommy died he was only fourteen months old. Having lost him irretrievably, Kelle went into an accelerating downward spiral of self-destruction. She emerged from this free fall only when her desire to stop drinking connected her with those who helped her to get sober.

In stirring, hypnotic prose, I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl explores the most painful aspects of Kelle’s addiction and loss with unflinching honesty and bold determination. Urgent and vital, exquisite and raw, her story is as much about maternal love as it is about survival, as much about acceptance as it is about forgiveness. Kelle’s longing for her son remains twenty-five years after his death. It is an ache intensified, as she lost him twice—first to adoption and then to cancer. In this inspiring portrait of redemption, Kelle charts the journey that led her to accept her addiction and grief and to learn how to live in the world. 

Through her family’s history and the story of her son’s cancer, Kelle traces with clarity and breathtaking grace the forces that shape a life, a death, and a literary voice.
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  • Free Press | 
  • 272 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451616699 | 
  • April 2012
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Gril includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Kelle Groom. 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.

INTRODUCTION

She had her first drink at age fourteen. At fifteen, she had her first alcoholic blackout. And in 1981, at the age of nineteen, Kelle Groom was an out-of-control alcoholic and pregnant. Unable to take care of the child herself, she gave up her son for adoption by her aunt and uncle. When, fourteen months later, he died of leukemia, Kelle’s downward spiral of self-destruction accelerated into a freefall from which she emerged only when when her desire to stop drinking connected her with those who helped her to get sober. Kelle charts the journey that led her to accept her addiction and grief and to learn how to live in the world.


TOPICS AND QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

1. The book is filled with vivid and visceral scenes, raw with emotion and sensory detail, but it is Kelle’s desire to be touched which seems to be most urgent and consistent.“Someone touching me so that I am not alone, someone choosing me,” she writes. Why do you think the touch of another p see more

About the Author

Kelle Groom
Photograph by Marion Ettlinger

Kelle Groom

Kelle Groom is the author of three poetry collections, Five Kingdoms (Anhinga, 2010), Luckily (Anhinga, 2006), and Underwater City (University Press of Florida, 2004). She has been published in The New Yorker, Ploughshares, and Best American Poetry 2010, among others. Her work has received special mention in the Pushcart Prize and Best American Non-Required Reading anthologies.

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