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The Water Giver

The Water Giver

The Story of a Mother, a Son, and Their Second Chance

  • reading group guide
Both a medical drama and meditation on motherhood, The Water Giver is Joan Ryan's honest account of her doubts and mistakes in raising a learning-disabled son and the story of how his near-fatal accident gave her a second chance as a parent.
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  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 272 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781416576532 | 
  • September 2010
List Price $17.99
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Read an Excerpt


I had not cried in his room. I believed he could hear me, or at least sense what I was feeling. So I chattered at him as if we were around our kitchen table. I told him we would be there when he woke up. That he should rest as long as he needed to heal. That he would be fine.

I believed it, despite everything that had happened. Ryan would be fine because children don’t die and because he was Ryan. I looked at him on the bed in the intensive care unit and saw a strong, broad-shouldered, tanned sixteen-year-old who seemed to be sleeping. My eyes looked past the tube clamped to his mouth to keep him breathing,... see more

The bottom shelf of the bookcase in my home office is lined with black three-ring binders and manila folders marked “Ryan.” They are filled with year-by-year educational plans, teacher conference notes, school transcripts, specialists’ assessments, neuropsychiatrists’ reports, photocopied articles about special-ed laws, positive discipline, learning disabilities, behavior modification techniques, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

They seem to chronicle a childhood. In truth they chronicle a motherhood.

The accumulation of information probably never helped Ryan very much. Oh, to... see more

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Water Giver includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Joan Ryan. 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


Joan Ryan expected motherhood to be different. She expected to raise her child just as she’d been raised. However, her son Ryan’s severe tantrums at home and trouble learning at school make her exceedingly frustrated by her inability to help him. Then, a severe accident and unlikely recovery brings mother and son closer than they’ve ever been. In a memoir about loving your child for who they are, not for whom you imagined them to be, Joan tells the story of the frightening path life took so that she could be the mother her son needed. With loyal friends and family, and the author’s deeply honest analysis of the events and most importantly herself, The Water Giver is a testament to love, acceptance and motherhood.


1. When Ryan calls Joan “the water giver,” she says: “I let the words wash over me. They felt like absolution” (p. 148). How is this scene a symbol of the simplicity she’d been searching for between mo see more

About the Author



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