The Turning Hour
by Shelley Fraser Mickle
River City Press
Bergin was smart and attractive, popular and athletic. So why did she
swallow a bottleful of pills?
The Turning Hour explores teen despair, weaving the viewpoints of Bergin, a
high school senior, with that of her mother, Leslie, to unravel the mystery
of why Bergin, in the middle of her senior year, attempts suicide and then
struggles to regain a life she can value. Although a dark subject about our
heartbreaking national crisis of 1.3 million teen suicide attempts per year,
this novel, in the hands of humorist and NPR "Morning Edition" commentator,
Shelley Fraser Mickle, lifts the reader into the realm of knowing how to
nurture and protect resilience. Peopled with characters that could live in
any one's neighborhood: two husbands struggling to understand themselves and
the women they love, an African-American psychiatrist with a secret of her
own, a stepbrother who looks at the world with "amazed" grace, two senior
citizen geldings who don't know much about horse whispering but understand a
little about cussing, and a pig who lives behind an azalea--this is a
mesmerizing novel about beating the blues and learning how to take care of
one's own life.
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1. Of all the relationships that women have, mother-daughter relationships
are among the most satisfying and the most complicated. Bergin and Leslie
have shared many challenges and special times as mother and daughter within
their changing family. What makes their relationship typical of most
mother-daughter relationships, and what makes their issues and experiences
2. Leslie's father, Judge Bergin, was an extraordinary man-intelligent,
warm, imaginative and loving. In many ways he stepped outside of the
traditional male role. Do you think his being original and being so much a
part of Leslie's childhood led her to expect too much from the other men in
her life? Indeed, all the men in The Turning Hour are very different, and
each relates to women in different ways. What does each of these
relationships contribute to Bergin and Leslie's sense of who they are?
3. Leslie's own mother had trouble with alcohol-- which is usually
associated with depression by either leading to the alcohol abuse or
resulting from it-- and Leslie, herself, experienced post-partum depression,
which affected her relationship with her husband. Years later, does it seem
that this history of depression affected Bergin and Leslie's relationship?
4. What were the cultural influences that affected Leslie and Doug's
relationship? Bergin and Luke's relationship? In what ways do cultural
influences enhance relationships? In what ways do they complicate and harm
5. Suicide is such a complicated issue. It many ways, it always seems
unbelievable. Yet, 500,000 young adults a year attempt suicide, one every
one and a half hours. It is the third leading cause of death of our nation's
young people. Why is it so difficult for us to believe that a young person
would want to commit suicide? Would it have been easier to believe that
Bergin would have tried to end her life had she been less gifted, less
beautiful, less accomplished?
6. Leslie comments on Bergin and her friends by calling them The Black
Fabric Generation. Many young people today have publicly stated they feel
hopeless. Are there pressures and problems today that young people face
which were not present in previous generations? Are today's challenges more
difficult to meet than were the challenges of the 60s, 50s, etc.?
7. What was Bergin most afraid of losing? How did the loss of the
relationship with Luke affect her relationship with her father and her fears
8. Complicated concepts are explored in The Turning Hour that really have no
one word to fully express them. These ideas and beliefs were what Bergin
says were at the root of her reality, i.e., the way she saw the world. For
instance, in the epigraph, the poem by Emily Dickinson, a mood is likened to
a certain slant of light. Which were your favorite metaphors and images used
to impart meaning to these difficult concepts and to express the feelings
that Bergin was trying to describe?
9. What are the ingredients for Bergin's resilience? Which of these did
Bergin have and where did she get them? Why weren't these strengths working
for her at the beginning of the book?
10. Do the styles, which convey Leslie and Bergin's voices, convey their
personalities? Do the broken sentences of Bergin's story enhance the sense
of the state of her mind? Does it seem you are closely viewing her world
with her, as if indeed, you are inside of her mind? Is literature perhaps the
best art form to capture the way the human mind works?
11. The word "turning" is used as an echo throughout the book: being turned
back physically from death, the darkness Bergin did not know how to turn away
from, the fact that Jack was the one she was turning to in her darkest hour,
etc. "Turning" implies movement and a connection with time. To what and to
whom would you predict Bergin would turn in a future difficult time in her
12. The book is divided into two parts, and the last section is viewed from
the present and told in the present tense. Why do you think the author chose
to tell the story in this way?
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