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Knowing Jesse

Knowing Jesse

A Mother's Story of Grief, Grace, and Everyday Bliss

  • reading group guide
Jesse Cooper was an honor-roll student who loved to windsurf and write poetry. He also had severe cerebral palsy and was quadriplegic, unable to speak, and wracked by seizures. He died suddenly at age seventeen.

In fiercely honest, surprisingly funny, and sometimes heartbreaking prose, Jesse’s mother, Marianne Leone, chronicles her transformation by the remarkable life and untimely death of her child. An unforgettable memoir of joy, grief, and triumph, Knowing Jesse unlocks the secret of unconditional love and speaks to all families who strive to do right by their children.
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  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 272 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781439184165 | 
  • September 2010
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Read an Excerpt

Prologue

All summer and fall I had been troubled by a dream I couldn’t interpret. My mother, who had died that spring, appeared as a silent sentinel dressed in white, seated next to a café table covered by snowy linen on which one small candle burned. Like a sphinx, her face was inscrutable but not disapproving. She was eerily still and seemed drained of the passions that inflamed her in life—the hardwired resentments, the black humor that saw death lurking around every corner and met it with a sneer, a laugh, and a vaffunculo.

The candle tipped over and fell behind the table. I reached for it and the... see more

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Jesse: A Mother's Story includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Marianne Leone. 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


Jesse Cooper was an honor-roll student who loved to windsurf and write poetry. He also had severe cerebral palsy and was quadriplegic, unable to speak, and wracked by seizures. He died suddenly at age seventeen. In Jesse: A Mother’s Story, Jesse’s mother, Marianne Leone, shows readers that despite challenges along the way—including her struggle to integrate Jesse into the public school system—life with Jesse was more rich and joyful than anyone could have imagined. In his short lifetime, Jesse lived life to the fullest and brought unbelievable happiness to everyone he met. Jesse is a heartbreaking, spirited, and poignant memoir, in which Marianne writes passionately about her family’s journey—the hope, challenges, grief, and love.

TOPICS & QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

1. Jesse is filled with humorous scenes, such as when Jesse kicks a monk who is trying to bless him. Discuss the tone of the book and how Marianne was able to infuse her st see more

About the Author

Marianne Leone
Photograph by Kerry Brett

Marianne Leone

Marianne Leone is an actress who appeared in The Sopranos, a screenwriter, and an essayist published in The Boston Globe. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, actor Chris Cooper, and two rescue dogs.

The Jesse Cooper Foundation funds inclusion and adapted sports for children with special needs, and supports disabled orphans in Romania.

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