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The Longings of Wayward Girls

The Longings of Wayward Girls

A Novel

  • reading group guide
It’s an idyllic New England summer, and Sadie is a precocious only child on the edge of adolescence. It seems like July and August will pass lazily by, just as they have every year before. But one day, Sadie and her best friend play a seemingly harmless prank on a neighborhood girl. Soon after, that same little girl disappears from a backyard barbecue—and she is never seen again. Twenty years pass, and Sadie is still living in the same quiet suburb. She’s married to a good man, has two beautiful children, and seems to have put her past behind her. But when a boy from her old neighborhood returns to town, the nightmares of that summer will begin to resurface, and its unsolved mysteries will finally become clear.
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  • Washington Square Press | 
  • 336 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781476724911 | 
  • July 2013
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Read an Excerpt

The Longings of Wayward Girls May 5, 1979
SADIE WASN’T A BAD GIRL. When she was little she played church, flattening soft bread into disks, singing the hymns from stolen paper missals: Our Fathers chained in prisons dark, were still in heart and conscience free, how sweet would be their children’s fate, if they like them, could die for Thee. She set up carnivals and lemonade stands, collected pennies for UNICEF on Halloween. She bought a tree to be planted in her name in a forest purged by fire. She included everyone... see more
The Longings of Wayward Girls September 22, 2002
SADIE FIRST SEES HIM ON a wet September evening, not long after she lost her baby—a stillborn girl. She has a cold, and the damp and the falling leaves all compound her sorrow. He is a boy she knows from childhood, now a man filling his truck at the local gas station. The few streets of their old neighborhood that wound together were built on his family’s farmland. He lived in a midcentury modern house at the top of Sadie’s road. It was fieldstone and glass, built... see more

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Longings of Wayward Girls includes discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. 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.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. Read the epigraph of the novel aloud. How does it serve to frame the narrative that follows it?

2. Consider the mother-daughter dynamics that are depicted within the novel. How do you think Sadie’s experience of being mothered by Clare impacts how she mothers Sylvia?

3. What do you make of Sadie and Craig’s relationship? Why do you think Sadie is drawn to Ray to begin with, and why does she ultimately return to Craig? Do you believe Ray when he writes to Sadie, “I knew who I had. I knew who you were” (p. 308)?

4. The weight of history—and the sense that it can repeat itself—is felt throughout the novel. As a group, can you brainstorm moments within the novel in which it appears (as Faulkner once famously said) that “the past isn’t dead—it isn’t even past”?

5. Consider the theme of female companionship in the novel. In what ways is it shown to be sustaining—and in what ways can it turn sinister?

6. Both Sadie and Cla see more

About the Author

Karen Brown
Photograph by Robert Baisden

Karen Brown

Karen Brown is the author of Little Sinners and Other Stories, which was named a Best Book of 2012 by Publishers Weekly, and Pins and Needles: Stories, which was the recipient of AWP’s Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction. Her work has been featured in The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, Best American Short Stories, The New York Times, and Good Housekeeping. She teaches creative writing and literature at the University of South Florida.




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