POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT!
The Reading Guide below is supplied by the book's publisher, and plot points may be revealed. We recommend that read the book before reading the guide.
1. On the voyage to New Zealand, Mrs. Randolph, a fellow passenger, cares for Margaret as she miscarries. Later, when Margaret tries to explain her grief over her new friend’s death to Henry, she thinks, “the small transactions between women, particularly mothers, cannot adequately be explained to a man. Some, like hers with Mrs. Randolph, will bind women for life.” Do you agree with Margaret? Can a strong relationship between women be forged in a matter of hours? With whom have you felt this connection?
2. Why do you think Mr. Oades misidentified Mim Bell as his wife? How could he have made such a grievous error?
3. Margaret refers to the quid pro quo of her faith: “One takes communion every single Sunday for thirty- odd years. One humbles herself, embraces every last dogmatic note, and no good comes of it, no help when one needs it most.” Nancy, too, feels as though she has been cheated. Have people’s expectations of contemporary Christianity changed?
4. Margaret teaches her children lessons every evening: grammar, mathematics, and etiquette. “It was her duty to prepare them for their return. She refused to accept the possibility that they might grow old and die a natural death here. Margaret never once considered setting her children free to be slaves.” She refuses to allow her children to live the life before them, planning, instead, for the life she hopes they will claim. Why does Margaret remain so steadfast during their captivity?
5. Henry finally accepts that his loved ones are dead, and eventually he marries another woman. What is the catalyst for this turning point? Do you agree with his actions?
6. Why do Margaret and the children receive such a chilly welcome when they finally return to the village from the Maori camp?
7. Several matches proposed in this book seem made for convenience: Portia and Henry, Margaret and Captain Fisk of the Sacramento, and even Nancy and Henry, at least in the beginning. Do you agree? If so, why do you think that is?
8. At what point do Margaret and Nancy start to get along? What sparks their friendship?
9. Though it’s a wretched situation for everyone involved, which Mrs. Oades do you think suffers most? With which woman do you most identify?
10. Was there a better solution for Mr. Oades and his non - traditional family? Or did they make the best possible choice? Would there be a better solution today? What would it be?
11. The claims of the Daughters of Decency seem ridiculous to modern ears. Can you think of any recent court battles that might seem as hysteric and unnecessary a century from now?
12. Consider the Maori premonition in the beginning of the book. How does it relate to the story?
13. What, in the end, do you think was the main theme of this book? Were you surprised?