The Weight of Silence
by Heather Gudenkauf
Masterfully written and beautifully told, Heather Gudenkauf’s debut is a stunning novel of family devotion, honesty and regret that will linger long after the last page is turned.
It happens quietly one August morning. As dawn’s shimmering light drenches the humid Iowa air, two families awaken to find their little girls have gone missing in the night.
Seven-year-old Calli Clark is sweet, gentle, a dreamer who suffers from selective mutism brought on by tragedy that pulled her deep into silence as a toddler. Calli’s mother, Antonia, tried to be the best mother she could within the confines of marriage to a mostly absent, often angry husband. Now, though she denies that her husband could be involved, she fears her decision to stay in her marriage has cost her more than her daughter’s voice.
Petra Gregory is Calli’s best friend, her soul mate and her voice. But neither Petra or Calli has been heard from since their disappearance was discovered. Desperate to find his child, Martin Gregory is forced to confront a side of himself he did not know existed beneath his intellectual, professorial demeanor.
Now these families are tied by the question of what happened to their children. And the answer is trapped in the silence of unspoken family secrets.
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1. Antonia describes herself as a bad mother while Louis reassures her that she, indeed, is a good mother. What evidence from the book supports each of their beliefs? How does Louis’ history with Antonia effect his own decisions as a husband and father?
2. Antonia and Louis’ long history together is integral to The Weight of Silence. As a deputy sheriff, what, if any, ethical or moral boundaries did Louis cross in the search for Calli?
3. Ben and Calli grew up with an abusive, alcoholic father. Knowing that abuse is often passed on from generation to generation, what are Ben’s and Calli’s chances of breaking the cycle of abuse in their future relationships? What instances from the book lead you to believe this?
4. How does the death of Antonia’s mother play into the decisions Antonia made as a wife and mother? How do you think Antonia’s life would be different if her mother had lived?
5. Martin Gregory, a proper, disciplined professor of economics has always valued order, predictability, and restraint in all areas of his life. How does his decision to seek retribution against the man he was sure violated his daughter fit into his belief system?
6. Antonia, Louis, Martin, and Petra’s perspectives are told in the first person present tense point of view while Calli’s is told in third person past tense? Why do you think the author decided to write the story in this way?
7. What does the title The Weight of Silence mean to you? How does the title relate to each of the main characters’ lives?
8. Before Calli and Petra’s disappearance, the Willow Creek Woods was a haven for Calli, Ben, and Toni. Calli, fearful of the forest after her ordeal, asked her mother if she ever got scared when walking in the woods. Toni replied, “It sent you back to me, didn’t it?” What did Toni mean by this?
9. Martin Gregory had worked so hard to leave behind his farming roots by becoming a college professor, but after Petra’s abduction and serious injuries, Martin subsequently moved with his family from Willow Creek to a farm. Why did Martin and Fielda decide to do this?
10. Toni describes Calli and Petra as “kindred spirits.” What makes their friendship so special? Do you think Calli and Petra’s friendship will last into their adulthood? Why or why not? Who do you consider to be your kindred spirit? Why?
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"The Weight of Silence is a tense and profoundly emotional story of a parent’s worst nightmare, told with compassion and honesty. Heather Gudenkauf skillfully weaves an explosive tale of suspense and ultimately, the healing power of love."
Susan Wiggs, #1 New York Times bestselling author
"Deeply moving and exquisitely lyrical, this is a powerhouse of a debut novel. Heather Gudenkauf is one of those rare writers who can tell a tale with the skill of a poet while simultaneously cranking up the suspense until it’s unbearable.
Tess Gerritsen, New York Times bestselling author of The Keepsake
"In her debut novel, Heather Gudenkauf masterfully explores the intricate dynamics of families, and the power that silence and secrets hold on them. When you begin this book, be sure you have the time to finish it because, like me, you will have to read straight through to its bittersweet conclusion."
Ann Hood, author of the novel The Knitting Circle and the memoir Comfort: A Journey Through Grief
"The Weight of Silence is a thoroughly enjoyable read, and kept me involved throughout. I’d especially like to congratulate Gudenkauf on her police procedures, which are spot-on; and the Deputy Sheriff, who was, to me, very believable and true to his character.
Don Harstad, bestselling author