Gold by Chris Cleave
Building on the tradition of Little Bee, Chris Cleave again writes with elegance, humor, and passion about friendship, marriage, parenthood, tragedy, and redemption. Gold is the story of Zoe and Kate, world-class athletes who have been friends and rivals since their first day of Elite training. They've loved, fought, betrayed, forgiven, consoled, gloried, and grown up together. Now on the eve of London 2012, their last Olympics, both women will be tested to their physical and emotional limits. They must confront each other and their own mortality to decide, when lives are at stake: What would you sacrifice for the people you love, if it meant giving up the thing that was most important to you in the world?
|1.||Discuss the opening scene of Gold where Kate and baby Sophie are watching Zoe win the gold at the 2004 Olympics. What did you learn about Kate’s personality as a wife, mother, and athlete in this one scene? How does this scene set the stage for the rest of the novel?|
|2.||According to Sophie, “You could play boys’ games like Star Wars that had fighting and spaceships and made you look tough, even if you weren’t tough enough to ride a bike.” Consider Sophie’s obsession with Star Wars. What attracts her to these movies? What does she have to prove by playing “tough” boys’ games?|
|3.||Consider Tom’s first impressions of his two star athletes: “Bit by bit, race by race, year by year, a girl like Zoe would stay afloat in the sport while Kate slowly sank under the weight of real life. Tom had seen it a hundred times.” How well does Tom predict their career successes and failures? In what ways does he underestimate Kate?|
|4.||When Tom watches his group of teen recruits, he notices “Kate’s latent strength, and Zoe’s perfect flow, and Jack’s incandescent energy.” Compare Kate, Zoe, and Jack’s athletic strengths to their personalities. How do Kate’s strength, Zoe’s flow, and Jack’s energy help them face everyday life off the track?|
|5.||Compare how Zoe and Kate handle the costs and benefits of being Olympic athletes. How does the press treat each of them? How do Zoe and Kate handle the media attention? What could they learn from the other about fame?|
|6.||Discuss Zoe and Kate’s competition for Jack’s attention. Why does Zoe pursue Jack when he is in the hospital? Do you think it was just another opportunity to compete? Were you surprised by Jack and Zoe’s relationships?|
|7.||If you were in Kate’s situation, would you forgive Jack for his affair with Zoe? Would you be able to raise Sophie as your own, knowing about the affair? Explain your answer.|
|8.||Zoe realizes, “It was ordinary days now that frightened her—the endless Tuesday mornings and Wednesday afternoons of real life, the days you had to steer through without the benefit of handlebars.” How does Zoe handle real life? What is she afraid will happen to her when her racing career is over?|
|9.||Discuss the lasting impact of Adam’s death on Zoe. Why hasn’t she forgiven herself for her brother’s accident? How does she punish herself? How does she finally come to terms with his death?|
|10.||When Jack decides to let Kate race Zoe without knowing that Sophie is in the hospital, “He smiled because he had given her something rarer than gold: an hour outside time.” Did you agree with his decision? In what ways have these characters been racing against time their entire life?|
|11.||During their final race, Zoe waits for Kate after Kate crashes on the track. How is that decision out of character for Zoe? Would you expect Kate to do the same for Zoe, if the situation were reversed? Why or why not?|
|12.||At the end of the novel, Zoe’s role is as Sophie’s coach, not her mother. What kind of coach do you imagine Zoe to be? What kind of mother do you think she would have been to Sophie? Do you think she could have handled Sophie’s illness?|
|13.||After winning gold in Athens, Zoe realizes, “Gold came out of the ground, and she had felt the weight of it dragging her back down there.” What does “gold” mean to Zoe, Kate, Jack, and Tom? What other types of gold (besides Olympic medals) do each of these characters strive for? Do they achieve it?|
These questions are provided by the Publisher.
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
Little Bee, a young Nigerian refugee, has just been released from the British immigration detention center where she has been held under horrific conditions for the past two years, after narrowly escaping a traumatic fate in her homeland of Nigeria. Alone in a foreign country, without a family member, friend, or pound to call her own, she seeks out the only English person she knows. Sarah is a posh young mother and magazine editor with whom Little Bee shares a dark and tumultuous past. They first met on a beach in Nigeria, where Sarah was vacationing with her husband, Andrew, in an effort to save their marriage after an affair, and their brief encounter has haunted each woman for two years. Now together, they face a disturbing past and an uncertain future with the help of Sarah's four-year-old son, Charlie, who refuses to take off his Batman costume. A sense of humor and an unflinching moral compass allow each woman, and the reader, to believe that even in the face of unspeakable odds, humanity can prevail. (From the publisher). Click here to read the full book review.
|1.||"Sad words are just another beauty. A sad story means, this storyteller is alive" (p. 9). For Little Bee and other asylum seekers, the story of their life thus far is often all they have. What happens to the characters that carrytheir stories with them, both physically and mentally? What happens when we try to forget our past? How much control over their own stories do the characters in the book seem to have?|
|2.||Little Bee tells the reader, "We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived" (p. 9). Which characters in the story are left with physical scars? Emotional scars? Do they embrace them as beautiful? Do you have any scars you've come to embrace? Did you feel more connected to Little Bee as a narrator after this pact?|
|3.||Little Bee strives to learn the Queen's English in order to survive in the detention center. How does her grasp of the language compare with Charlie's? How does the way each of these two characters handle the English language help to characterize them?|
|4.||How did it affect your reading experience to have two narrators? Did you trust one woman more than the other? Did you prefer the voice of one above the other?|
|5.||Little Bee credits a small bottle of nail polish for "saving her life" while she was in the detention center (p. 7). Is there any object or act that helps you feel alive and beautiful, even when everything else seems to be falling apart?|
|6.||Of the English language Little Bee says, "Every word can defend itself. Just when you go to grab it, it can split into two separate meanings so the understanding closes on empty air" (p. 12). What do you think she means by this? Can you think of any examples of English words that defend themselves? Why is language so important to Little Bee?|
|7.||Little Bee says of horror films, "Horror in your country is something you take a dose of to remind yourself that you are not suffering from it" (p. 45). Do you agree? Was reading this novel in any way a dose of horror for you? How did it help you reflect on the presence or lack of horror in your own life?|
|8.||Little Bee figures out the best way to kill herself in any given situation, just in case "the men come suddenly." How do these plans help Little Bee reclaim some power? Were you disturbed by this, or were you able to find the humor in some of the scenarios she imagines?|
|9.||What does Udo changing her name to Little Bee symbolize for you? How does her new name offer her protection? Do you think the name suits her?|
|10.||"To have an affair, I began to realize, was a relatively minor transgression. But to really escape from Andrew, to really become myself, I had to go the whole way and fall in love" (p. 161-162). Do you agree with Sarah that an affair is a minor transgression? How did falling in love with someone else help Sarah become herself? What role did Andrew play in perpetuating Sarah's extramarital affair?|
|11.||When Little Bee finds that Andrew has hanged himself she thinks, "Of course I must save him, whatever it costs me, because he is a human being." And then she thinks, "Of course I must save myself, because I am a human being too" (p. 194). How do the characters in the story decide when to put themselves first and when to offer charity? Is one human life ever more valuable than another? What if one of the lives in question is your own?|
These questions are provided by the Publisher.