Book Group Discussion Topics

on One Summer in Arkansas

  1. Lee Addison's return to his home in the South evokes mixed feelings. Familiarity and a sense of belonging are coupled with rejection of the values and culture he grew up with. To what extent does the comparison of liberal, secular West coast values and conservative, religious Southern values reflect our cultural and political divide?
  2. Religious practice permeates the novel in many forms from traditional Protestantism to tent revivalism to Etta's intuitive spiritualism. How do the characters in the book struggle with the role religion plays in their lives?
  3. In a society where young people are encountering sex in one way or another at an ever-younger age, what does M.J.'s experience say about the impact of early sex on young people, and particularly girls, who aren't emotionally ready for it?
  4. Lee has just finished school and yet in his very first law case he encounters an ethical dilemma. Although we often look at ethical issues with black-and-white clarity and the benefit of hindsight, he's not certain about what is the right thing to do. What should he have done about the law firm's approach to the wrongful death drowning case?
  5. Frances Addison and Etta Jones have lived within blocks of each other their whole lives. What does their awareness of each other, or lack thereof, tell us about the way different classes and races move around one another in our culture?
  6. Francis Addison often thinks about how her parents would have reacted to her successes and failures and those of her children. This causes Lee to wonder why parental focus on children's success persists, even down through the generations. Why do people care about the way their genetic pool plays out through subsequent generations?
  7. When tragedy strikes, all three Addisons are hit hard but they react very differently. What does their reaction say about each personality type?
  8. Alcohol and drug abuse, coupled with feelings of unworthiness, are rampant in our society, particularly among the young. Could we see this coming with M.J.? What aspects of her behavior gave early signals that she could become an addictive personality?
  9. For all her family's struggle and tragedy, what is it about Etta Jones that enables her to set the past aside and appreciate life as it comes?