In this compelling, heartfelt novel from the bestselling author of Tuscan Holiday
and The Friends We Keep,
a family reunited for the holidays explores the price of secrets, the power of regret, and the choices that can change everything…
The Rowans’ rambling Maine farmhouse is just big enough to contain the family members gathered there in the week before Christmas. Becca Rowan has driven north from Boston with one thought in mind—reclaiming the daughter she gave up when she was a frightened teenager. Raised by Becca’s older brother and his wife, Rain Rowan, now sixteen, has no idea she was adopted. And though Becca agreed not to reveal the truth until Rain turned twenty-one, lately that promise, along with all her career success, counts for little in the face of her loneliness and longing.
But while Becca anticipates shock at her announcement, she’s unprepared for the depth of her family’s reactions. Her brother is angry and fearful of losing the daughter he adores; her sister Olivia, oblivious to her crumbling marriage, reveals long-buried resentments, while Becca’s parents are torn between concern and guilt. And as the Rowans’ neighbor, Alex, draws her deeper into an unexpected friendship, Becca begins to challenge her own preconceptions about family, about love, and about the courage needed to live with—and sometimes change—the decisions we make…
1. Thinking about her husband’s affair and about the
human appetite for gossip and rumor, Nora posits that
“No relationship was entirely private.” Do you agree
with her assessment?
2. From her vantage point of almost ninety years, Nora
believes that “The young thought they were noble, but
nobody untested can be noble. . . . To forgive in the
wake of betrayal, that was nobility.” Do you agree that
nobility—wisdom, wise action, and selfless behavior—
comes only (though not necessarily) with age?
3. In a similar vein, listening to her granddaughter Lily’s
condemnation of her grandfather’s affair, Nora reflects
on “the rigidity of the young.” She believes that “the
concept of compromise was one that came to a person
only with the accumulation of experience.” Do you
4. Olivia argues that “objects have meaning beyond their
physical presence or their usefulness or their monetary
value.” Her mother, Julie, argues against this notion
and claims that too often objects seem to own people.
Are both women right, to some extent? Discuss.
5. Becca states that you can’t hold someone to her word
if it was given under pressure. Discuss this in general
(what does “pressure” mean in various contexts?) and
in terms of Becca’s own situation as a pregnant sixteen-year-
old. (For example, she claims to have been coerced
into giving her baby to David and Naomi; David
argues that she was counseled.)
6. Discuss Becca’s shame and guilt over not having bonded
immediately with her baby. How do societal expectations
act unfairly on women at various stages of their
7. Lily wonders if it’s possible to live a perfectly honest
and open life. “If guilt was possible, then why couldn’t
innocence be possible, too?” Later, she wonders: “Was
everybody doomed to dissemble?” Is Lily simply naïve,
or does her belief in the possibility of a life of honesty
hold some merit?
8. Lily thinks about secrets and the various motives behind
them. Do you believe that some secrets—perhaps
of the sort found in this novel—should be kept and
others broken? Why? In what circumstances?
9. Olivia declares: “Without our memories we’re nothing.”
What does she mean by this? What might a person
less obsessed with history understand by this statement?
10. Early on in the novel, Becca reminds herself: “Sentimentality
was as dangerous as its troublemaking cohort,
nostalgia.” Do you agree with her wariness
regarding these two emotional states?
11. Late in the novel, Lily tells her grandmother that she
believes the Rowan family has been “defined by deception.”
Nora argues that the family has been “defined
by love.” With whom do you most agree? Can
deception and love coexist?
12. Nora tells Lily that she must not “underestimate the
appeal of domestic habit.” What do you think of the
value of domestic habit in a marriage or other long-
term relationship? Do you think it is generally of more
importance to a woman than a man, or do you think
both sexes equally need and find comfort in domestic
habit? Do you think the value of domestic habit increases
or decreases over time?
13. When Olivia tells her husband that she was too busy
to write his Christmas letter, he claims to be more hurt
that she chose to ignore a cherished ritual than if she
had simply forgotten to write the letter. Do you understand
and agree with James’s position?
14. In Alex’s opinion, a person who allows a past sadness
to continue to color his present displays a lack of imagination.
Discuss what Alex means when he talks about
emotional creativity and its relation to happiness.
15. Becca repeatedly says that she wants to “claim” or “reclaim”
her daughter. At one point, Naomi argues against
the choice of those terms. She finds them in some way
demeaning of Rain’s full status as an individual. Do
you agree with Naomi’s interpretation of Becca’s word
16. In your opinion, what is the most important stimulus
behind Becca’s seemingly abrupt decision to finally
talk with her father and begin the healing process between