Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Sins of the Mother includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Victoria Christopher Murray. 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.
After years of lying, cheating, scheming and stealing, Jasmine Larson Bush has finally settled into a drama-free life as the first lady of one of the largest churches in New York City. She and her husband Hosea have been blessed with the best of everything and have two beautiful and happy children. But just when Jasmine thinks her troubles are over forever, her daughter Jacqueline is kidnapped at a mall in broad daylight. The police and the church community join in a frantic search to find the four-year-old, but as the days pass with no sign of her daughter, Jasmine begins to crack under the pressure. In her despair she turns to Brian Lewis, Jacqueline’s biological father, for solace. As her nerves and her marriage are stretched to the limit, Jasmine wonders if she is being punished for her past sins. Will she and her family pay the ultimate price?
Questions for Discussion
1. Reverend Bush tells Hosea: “Son, I told you before not to judge Jasmine and her grief. Maybe I should have reminded you not to judge yours either. You’re more action oriented—you take charge and do something. Jasmine is more introspective. She’s probably trying to figure out what’s happening to Jacquie every moment of every day. Neither of you is wrong; neither of you is right.” How are Jasmine and Hosea’s reactions to their tragedy each valuable? How might these reactions also be destructive?
2. How can loss create rifts between people? Consider some of the issues that Jasmine and Hosea may have had before that reappear as a result of Jacquie’s disappearance.
3. After Brian’s last visit to his therapist he decides not to return and tells Alexis he is “cured.” Do you think there is actually a cure for his problem? Why does he decide not to go back? His therapist warns him, “Be careful. I told you before, don’t make Alexis your new addiction.” Do you think Brian makes Alexis his new addiction, or is he simply expressing his love for her?
4. How would you describe Brian and Alexis’s relationship? Why does she forgive Brian after all he has put her through? Do you think she can really trust him again?
5. In Hosea’s first sermon after Jacqueline’s kidnapping, he discusses the issue of why bad things happen to good people. This is an issue that many people grapple with. How are you able to come to terms with bad things happening to good people and good things happening to bad people? How does Hosea’s faith help him through the situation?
6. How does Jacqueline’s kidnapping bring Brian closer to Alexis? How does it change them both?
7. Consider how Jasmine treated Mae Frances after the kidnapping. Do you think her behavior was justified? Was she too hard on Mae Frances?
8. When Jasmine visits City of Lights at Riverside Church she gets down on her knees to pray. “In the past, she’d knelt with her knees, even closed her eyes and lowered her head. But today, she was bowing her heart. For the first time.” What does this passage mean? How is this a transformative experience for Jasmine?
9. Reverend Bush tells Jasmine, “‘Thank Him for his grace, but thank Him even more for His mercy.’ His words reminded her of the first sermon she’d ever heard him preach, when he’d taught the difference between grace and mercy. She hadn’t truly understood then, but in the years that she’d been part of the Bush family, she understood now.” What does this passage mean? What is the difference between grace and mercy?
10. Do you agree with Hosea’s decision to take the law into his own hands? Do you agree with the sentence he received? How might his behavior have been justified? Or was it inexcusable? How does his behavior in court help his case?
11. When Jasmine sees Brian in the courthouse “there was nothing there, not a bit of care; certainly nothing that came close to lust or love. She couldn’t believe it—then, just shrugged it off. She’d been sick out of her mind—that’s why she’d turned to Brian. And when Jacqueline came home, so did her good sense.” Based on her history with Brian, do you think her feelings were really simply a matter of losing her senses? Why else might Jasmine have developed feelings for Brian again?
12. Do you think that the relationship Brian and Alexis end up in is a healthy one, particularly after his struggle with addiction? Where do you see their relationship going?
13. What do you think lies ahead for the Bush family, considering the horrific circumstances of Jacquie’s kidnapping? At the end of the novel Jasmine is thinking “not about endings, but what was surely their tremendous new beginning.” What are some of the positive and negative aspects of the new beginning the Bush family is about to face?
14. What are the main themes of this novel? Did you find relevance to your own life in these themes?
15. Share some of your favorite scenes and dialogue from the novel.
16. If you’ve read previous books featuring Jasmine, were you able to sympathize with her more or less in this book? How has she changed? What do you like and dislike most about her?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Visit the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at www.missingkids.com. Organize a volunteer outing at a call center, or collect funds for a donation to the center. The website includes information on how to donate.
2. Check out Murray’s other Jasmine novels, Lady Jasmine, Too Little Too Late, and A Sin and a Shame. If you love Murray’s work, pick up books by her contemporaries ReShonda Tate Billingsley and Kimberla Lawson Roby.
3. Visit the author’s website at www.victoriachristophermurray.com. The site contains fascinating biographical information on Murray and includes dates of her upcoming tours and speaking engagements.
A Conversation with Victoria Christopher Murray
1. Kidnapping and child abuse can be difficult to read about. Was this a difficult book to write, particularly the parts about what happened to Jacqueline? Did anything in particular inspire you to explore this topic?
This was a tough, tough book to write, but it’s a subject that has intrigued me for a long time. I lived in New York in the late 70’s or early 80’s when a young boy by the name of Etan Patz disappeared on the first day of school. It was the first time any of us had heard about a child disappearing. (Unfortunately, it’s all too common now.) But, I remember praying for days and weeks for this young boy, and especially for his family. I couldn’t imagine how his mother put her head down every night. And since he was never found, I couldn’t imagine how she was able to move forward with her life. It was a subject that I wanted to explore.
2. After writing so many books about Jasmine, she must be very close to your heart. How did you come up with this character? Is she based on anyone you know? Do you take any of your characters from real life?
Interestingly enough, Jasmine is not at all close to my heart. I never wanted to write even a second book about her and definitely not a third or fourth. Like most of the readers, Jasmine got on my nerves – a lot! She’s not based on anyone I know, but as I continued her story through the many novels, people told me that they often saw themselves in her. That’s a hard thing to admit, but I do believe there are parts (small parts) of Jasmine in all of us – a woman who is just trying to do good, but is always dragged back (by her own behavior) to what’s familiar. And no, I don’t take characters from real life. Are you kidding me? My imagination is so much more interesting than my friends.
3. What are you working on now? Are more Jasmine books in the works?
I thought I made it perfectly clear at the end of Sins of the Mother that there will be no more Jasmine books! She is over. At least in her own stand-alone books. I am thinking about doing collaborations with a couple of other authors and Jasmine may show up in those books. But she will never be the major character in my books again. I am so glad to be working on and discovering new characters. My next book, The Cougar, introduces the readers to characters they’ve never met before. And that’s all I’m going to say.
4. What do you like to do in your free time? Is there anything that particularly inspires your creativity?
Free time??? What’s that??? Writing one book a year doesn’t leave much free time. But, I do make time for working out – I used to run marathons, but when I had my hip replaced last year, my surgeon told me my running days are over. I love, love, love to read. I’m one of those writers who’s blessed to be able to read while writing – reading doesn’t affect my writing at all. Besides that, I enjoy spending time with family and friends...sounds boring, huh?
5. How do you balance your writing career and your personal life?
That’s a great question! I was just telling a friend today that I don’t do a good job of balancing my career and my personal life. Unfortunately for me, I haven’t been able to support myself on writing my novels alone. So, I have to do many other things – and hence...no free time and very little personal life. I’m hoping one day this will change. Maybe when I’m sixty or seventy...or ninety...
6. Do you hash out your entire plot before writing your novels or do you just start writing and see what happens?
I used to just start writing, but because I’m trying to write more than one novel a year, I now work from an outline. With an outline, most of the plot is hashed out, but most times, the characters will surprise me and change course. I always let the characters do their thing. For example, the ending of Sins of the Mother is totally different from what I’d planned – the characters took over and I let them.
7. What are some of your favorite books? Your favorite authors?
My all time favorite author is Richard Wright. Some of my favorite contemporary books are: Child of God by Lolita Files, Freshwater Road by Denise Nicholas, Abraham’s Well by Sharon Ewell Foster – just to name a few. I love books that entertain and teach me something at the same time.
8. What are you reading now? Do you have any recommendations?
I’m reading Mistress of the Game – the last Sidney Sheldon book. Last year was a great reading year for me – The Devil is a Li, by ReShonda Tate Billingsley, Be Careful What You Pray For by Kimberla Lawson Roby (she let me read the manuscript!), What Doesn’t Kill You by Virginia Deberry and Donna Grant, The Warmest December by Bernice McFadden, After by Marita Golden, Sins of the Father by Angela Benson, Orange Mint and Honey by Carleen Brice, and Gather Together in My Name by Tracy Price Thompson. Those are just a few of the best. (I told you that I love to read!)
9. You do a lot of touring and motivational speaking. What do you enjoy most about these engagements? Do you connect with your readers? Do you have any favorite moments from your tours?
I really, really, really love touring. I love the chance to talk to talk to readers about my stories. I love the fact that I have to tell readers over and over that the characters and stories aren’t real! LOL! I enjoy speaking as much as I enjoy writing.
10. Who among your contemporaries do you admire?
I really admire Eric Dickey because he takes the craft of writing to a new level with every book he writes. I read his books to be entertained, but I also read his books to learn. No one teaches me and inspires me with their words the way Eric does. I also admire Kimberla Lawson Roby because she connects better with her readers than any writer I know. She’s balanced her career fabulously – the right amount of creativity with business. Truly left brain/right brain and because of that, she has built an outstanding career. Her skills at writing and business puts the MBA I earned from a top twenty school to shame!
11. Do you have a favorite of your own books?
Nope! Okay, well, maybe JOY.....
12. You write YA fiction and adult fiction. Do you approach the two types of writing differently? Do you enjoy one more than the other?
Yes, I approach the writing differently. I write all of my teen books from a first person point of view. That allows me to get into the head of teenagers, to actually become the teenager. My adult books have all been written in third person – at least until this point. And, I don’t enjoy writing one more than the other – not at all. Writing for teens and writing for adults allows me the opportunity to satisfy my desire to write for everyone. There are other genres I’d love to write in – I’d love to write a non-fiction book about surviving my husband’s death and even a children’s book, but I’m not able to do that yet because of contractual obligations. Hopefully one day I will be able to write all the books inside of me.
13. What is the single most important thing you hope that readers take from Sins of the Mother?
Wow! You know, I never sit down and say, “What is the message I want people to take away?” I truly just write the story and then the message shows up. And what’s great is that the message is different for each reader. I guess what I want readers to get from all of my novels is that in every situation, God will carry you through.