This reading group guide forThe Summer Windincludes an introduction, 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.
The second book in Mary Alice Monroe’s Lowcountry Summer trilogy, The Summer Wind continues the story of three half-sisters and their grandmother experiencing the highs and lows of a poignant summer on Sullivan Island.
For Dora, the winds of change force her to cope with the aftermath of a messy divorce. Dora must let go of her facade of the perfect wife and mother and discover a renewed purpose before she can move on with her future. For Carson, the summer brings a road trip with her nephew that will change and heal them both. For Harper, a summer of self-reflection leads her to revealing the weight of the expectations placed on her as the heir to her family’s fortune.
As a rough island storm brews and a health crisis threatens a beloved member of the family, the summer girls’ bond strengthens—just as Mamaw had planned.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Mamaw sometimes reflects on her sneaky methods—“blackmail,” Harper calls it—for keeping the girls together at Sea Breeze for the summer. Do you think she was right to use manipulation to get the girls to stay? In other words, do you think that a mother or grandmother's good intentions can justify her actions?
2. How do the girls’ relationships with one another change over the course of the novel? Take time to consider each of their one-on-one relationships, as well as the dynamic of the three of them together.
3. As Dora stands in her and Cal’s old house, she compares it both to herself—“She felt rather like this old house. . . . Beneath her ever-present smile, she was crumbling”—and to her and Cal’s marriage—“Everywhere she looked, Dora saw . . . that no amount of effort on her part could save it.” In what ways does Dora feel trapped in the house, and how is she able to free herself of it? On a separate but similar note, if the old house represents Dora’s marriage and unhappiness, what does Sea Breeze represent?
4. Which moment do you think was the bigger turning point for Dora—her “broken heart syndrome” stress cardiomyopathy attack, or her realization in the store dressing room after Harper’s outburst? What other major turning points does Dora encounter, and how do they affect her life and her relationships?
5. Dora’s role as Nate’s mother is not easy, but her sisters suspect she puts more pressure and strain on herself than she needs to. What does Dora discover about her relationship with Nate through allowing him to travel to Florida with Carson?
6. Though continually withdrawn due to his Asperger’s, Nate’s transformation from the sad, outburst-prone boy at the start of the novel to the more accepting, slightly more outgoing boy at the end is clear. What factors and events most contributed to this transformation? Do you think the change is temporary or permanent, and why?
7. What do you consider to be the main priorities of each summer girl—Carson, Dora, Harper? How, if at all, do you think their priorities change over the course of the novel?
8. Monroe's theme of humans and animals sharing a connection is evident in The Summer Wind. Consider Carson and Nate’s connection with Delphine, Cara’s connection with the sea-turtle hatchlings, and Taylor’s connections with Jax and Thor. How do these bonds affect their lives and the lives of those they love? Discuss ways in which you can develop your connection with animals and with nature.
9. Harper talks of the expectations placed on her as the heir to the Jameses’ fortune. How do you think those expectations have shaped the woman she has become?
10. What are the major differences between Dora’s relationship with Cal and her relationship with Devlin Cassell? What positives and negatives do you see for her in each relationship, and which would you encourage her to pursue? Why?
11. Consider the role that guilt plays in the novel. Which characters suffer from it, and why? Are all of the characters able to overcome their guilt? Or are there any characters left with guilty feelings at the end of this book?
12. The unearthing of the slave manacles is a poignant moment for the girls—and especially for Lucille. What do you think the manacles represent to her? What emotions do you imagine are stirred in her when she sees and holds them?
13. “We should never underestimate how important our loved ones are to us. Or how powerful one’s grief can be.” Mamaw’s words foreshadow the loss that is to come in the novel’s final pages. Lucille’s passing signifies the end of a long era at Sea Breeze; truly she had become a member of the family. Discuss Mamaw and Lucille’s long friendship, and the impact each woman had on the other’s life.
14. At the end of the novel, Carson is faced with a life-changing decision. Do you think she will decide to have her baby? Do you think she’ll repair her relationship with Blake? What are your predictions for her in the final novel of the Lowcountry Summer trilogy?
15. The theme of healing is dominant in this book, as Dora heals from "broken heart syndrome" and the dolphin Delphine heals from her injuries. Discuss the parallels of their healing: What do both Delphine and Dora have to let go of from their past? What must they find? What are the possibilities for their future? Are other characters undergoing healing in this book?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. On the very first page of the novel, we learn that “being out on Sullivan’s Island, sitting in the shade of a live oak tree, sipping iced tea, and waiting for the occasional offshore breeze” is Mamaw’s “very definition of summer.” What’s yours? Ask each member of your reading group to write down how they define summer on an index card, then take turns sharing the definitions out loud.
2. Carson’s best friends when she was a child were her books—“A Wrinkle in Time, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and anything by Judy Blume.” Have the members of your group bring their favorite childhood books along to share, and discuss the role reading played in your lives when you were younger.
3. The three summer girls were named after their father’s favorite Southern authors—Harper after Harper Lee, Carson after Carson McCullers, and Dora after Eudora Welty. Split your reading group into three teams, and give each of the teams one of these authors to research, asking them to consider what each author may have in common with her namesake.
4. In gardening, Dora and Harper find an activity that brings them closer together. Bring a bit of nature into your reading group: Purchase packets of seeds, small pots, and a bag of soil ahead of your reading group date, then let each member of your group plant their own mini-garden to take home with them.
5. If playing cards is more your speed, skip the gardening and go straight for discussing the novel over a game of gin rummy—in Mamaw’s honor and Lucille’s memory. Don’t know the rules, or need a quick refresher course? Check out http://www.bicyclecards.com/card-games/rule/gin-rummy.
6. Taylor, the former Marine Carson meets while in Florida, is a participant in the Wounded Warrior program—a program for which the real-life Joan Mehew won the Carry Forward Award in 2013. To learn more about the vision and purpose of the Wounded Warrior Project, visit http://sandbox.woundedwarriorproject.org.
7. To discover more about Mary Alice Monroe and her books, read her blog, view a list of her upcoming author appearances, and more, visit http://www.maryalicemonroe.com.