fighting bullying one novel at a time
Discussion Guide: DANNY’S MOM
1. Blame and guilt are significant issues in Danny’s Mom. Why does Beth feel the need to blame Joe for Danny’s death? Does blaming Joe serve a purpose for Beth? Why do you think she initially absolves herself of guilt? And what causes Beth to realize that she shares responsibility for the accident?
2. Beth seems to think of Danny as her son only––not as Joe’s son. Why does she feel that way? How, in general, do you think the mother-child relationship differs from the father-child relationship?
3. The characters in Danny’s Mom face many conflicts. Discuss the conflict between Beth and Joe. What causes the tension in their relationship? And what causes the conflict between Joe and Al, Beth’s father? Why does Joe seem at odds with him?
4. Throughout the novel, the tension between Beth and Peter is palpable. In fact, Beth says, “Peter and I were allergic to each other.” Discuss the tension in their relationship. Is Peter solely to blame for their antagonism? And is Peter alone to blame for what happens at Meadow Brook High School?
5. When characters are well drawn, readers gain insight into what motivates them. Discuss what motivates Joe. What motivates Beth? What motivates Peter?
6. Several reviewers call Danny’s Mom “a story about relationships.” Discuss the relationship between Beth and her father. Talk about the relationship between Beth and Callie. Contrast Beth and Joe’s relationship with the relationship between Callie and her husband, Tom.
7. In thinking about Joe, Beth recognizes that “Danny had glued [them] together, even when [they] argued about him. And now [they] were peeling apart.” Do you think Beth’s realization applies to most marriages that have to incorporate tragedy or hard times? Discuss the difference in how Beth and Joe each respond to grief.
8. Elaine Wolf, the author of Danny’s Mom, is known as “the anti-bullying novelist.” Some reviewers say that Danny’s Mom is primarily about bullying. Who are the bullies in this novel? How does each one grab power and sustain it?
9. Other reviewers call Danny’s Mom a book about motherhood. Although we don’t experience the relationship between Beth and Danny firsthand, we know a lot about it. Do you think Beth was a good mother? Discuss Beth’s thought that “maybe [she] didn’t have enough love for a husband and a child. Or maybe [she] didn’t know how to divide it.” Compare Beth as a mother to Liz’s mother, Mary Grant.
10. Many of the characters in Danny’s Mom make poor decisions. Talk about the decisions and/or choices made by Beth, Liz, Bob and Peter, Joe, and Ann Richardson. What, if anything, do you think Beth should have done differently at school and at home? What do you think Liz should have done?
11. Why doesn’t Liz speak out? Why doesn’t Beth speak out sooner?
12. Although Beth makes poor choices as she fights to assist Liz, Beth is passionate about trying to help. Beth’s motivation extends beyond simply being a counselor. Why does Beth feel compelled to rescue Liz?
13. Discuss Kate Stanish. What is her motivation? Talk about the relationship between Beth and Kate. Beth trusted Kate immediately; Beth “embraced Kate’s words like a kind of religion.” Why? And why does Beth obsess about Kate? What does that obsession offer Beth?
14. Discuss the symbolism of Beth’s reading To Kill A Mockingbird. Similarly, discuss the black and white clown that Zach Stanish drew.
15. Beth lies a lot. Why? What benefit does her lying give her? And what harm does it do?
16. Discuss Beth’s crazy consequence game, the way she lists or counts things and invents consequences. Why does she do that?
17. Beth realizes that, maybe, parents can never fully know their children. (“Do we ever really know our children? Can we hear their messages, told in half-truths and glances? Or, do we plug our ears and close our eyes for fear of what we’ll find?”) Beth wonders if parents and children are afraid of each other. (“Are our children as afraid of us as we are of them? Afraid that we’ll blame them? Afraid of our lies?”) What do you think? Can parents fully know their children? And do you agree with Beth that parents and children are afraid of each other?
18. Danny’s Mom has been called a coming-of-age story for adults. How does Beth grow and change and find her voice? What lessons does she learn? What have you learned as a reader, or what thoughts do you have after reading Danny’s Mom?
19. Discuss the cover: the image of a sinking school. Why do you think that picture was chosen for the cover?
20. There are two epigraphs at the beginning of the novel. One is attributed to Kiran Desai: “The present changes the past. Looking back you do not find what you left behind.” The other epigraph is from Anne Morrow Lindbergh: “Woman must come of age by herself. She must find her true center alone.” Discuss these quotes as they relate to Danny’s Mom.