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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

Plain Bad Heroines

written by emily m. danforth, with illustrations by Sara Lautman

1. Mary MacLane was a real person. Were you familiar with her before reading this book? If not, are you inspired to do more research? Why do you think MacLane was such a controversial star in her day, but relatively obscure today?

2. How did the footnotes, illustrations and overall design of the novel shape your reading experience? Did any particular elements stand out to you?

3. PLAIN BAD HEROINES is a work of meta-fiction. How many layers of storytelling did you notice throughout the novel? Who do you think the novel’s narrator is?

4. How does social media influence the characters and events in the novel? What are the positive and harmful effects of gossip and “buzz”?

5. PLAIN BAD HEROINES          pays homage to classic and contemporary gothic and horror stories. What influences did you pick up on? Did you notice any tropes being riffed on or subverted?

6. What do you believe the wasps in PLAIN BAD HEROINES represent? Why do they appear in certain scenes?

7. Think about this quote: “That’s history for you, my darlings. When you dig it up, it always carries a whiff of rot.” How do you interpret this statement? How does this theme reoccur throughout the novel?

8. Which horrors in the story are real and which are imagined? What was most frightening to you, and why?

9. How do the past and present timelines in the novel echo each other? Which instances of events or circumstances mirroring each other did you notice?

10. How do the experiences of the queer characters in the past and present timelines differ? Did reading this novel influence your understanding of the presence of queer people in history? 

11. What is PLAIN BAD HEROINES’ message about whose stories get to be told? Why is representation in storytelling important? How do the stories we’re exposed to shape us?

12. "[Mary MacLane] grew up and the world was hard and her fame didn’t fix it,” Audrey says. Do you agree with this assumption? What does fame provide, or not provide, for the characters in this novel? Why do they crave it?

13. How do you interpret a “bad” heroine? Do you think MacLane or any of the heroines in this novel were bad people for the things they did? Is anyone in this novel truly evil?

Plain Bad Heroines
written by emily m. danforth, with illustrations by Sara Lautman

  • Publication Date: October 5, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Gothic
  • Paperback: 656 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0062942867
  • ISBN-13: 9780062942869