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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

The Breakdown Lane

Giving advice is what Julianne Ambrose Gillis does for a living: Every Sunday she doles it out to "clueless" people she doesn't know, in a column in her local Wisconsin paper. But when it comes to her personal life, Julie seems to have missed some clues. She has worked hard to keep her marriage fresh and to be a good mother, so it's a mystery when Leo, her husband of twenty years, decides to defect from their life together and their three children, Gabe, Caroline, and Aury.

In his absence, Julie is diagnosed with a serious illness, which drives her children to undertake a dangerous journey to find Leo -- before it's too late. As the known world sinks precariously from view and leaves them all adrift, the members of the Gillis clan must navigate their way through the trenches of love, guilt, and betrayal back to solid ground and a new definition of family.

1. What kinds of columns does Julianne Gillis write for the Sheboygan News-Clarion? How does she get her job in the first place, and what does it eventually lead to? Why does the tone of her columns change over the course of The Breakdown Lane?

2. Describe Julie and Leo's marriage: what connects them as a couple, and what distances them from each other? What do you think explains Leo's disappearance?

3. What aspects of the family life described in The Breakdown Lane resonated with your own experiences? Did Jacquelyn Mitchard capture marriage, parenting, separation, pregnancy, divorce, remarriage, or adoption in a way that reminded you of some of these phases in your life?

4. What unconventional help do Julie's family and friends offer her and her family during Leo's absence? What drastic and difficult economic measures must Julie make to keep her family afloat? What did you think of these compromises?

5. What are some of the physical symptoms Julianne experiences prior to being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis? What are some of the emotional changes she undergoes as she begins the medical course of treatment for her disease?

6. How do Gabe, Caroline, and Aurora interact with each other as siblings? What do you think explains their different reactions to their mother's illness and their parents' separation?

7. How does Gabe's learning disability color his perspective on life? Why does he decide to drop out of high school? How does his friendship with Tian change him?

8. Describe the "hippie lifestyle" that Leo seeks. When Gabe and Caroline go looking for Leo, what do they encounter? How does what they find affect them and their relationships with their father?

9. Who is Matthew MacDougall and how does Julie reconnect with him? What kind of life does her promise her and her children, and how does he fulfill that promise?

10. What did you think of the end of The Breakdown Lane? How did you feel on learning that Julianne Gillis was a pseudonym?

The Breakdown Lane
by Jacquelyn Mitchard

  • Publication Date: April 1, 2006
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Mass Market Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: HarperTorch
  • ISBN-10: 0060587253
  • ISBN-13: 9780060587253