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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

The Lost English Girl

1. When Viv discovers that she is pregnant --- or has “gotten herself into trouble” --- after only two dates with Joshua, they both know they must marry as soon as possible so that the child will be considered “legitimate” --- born to a legally married couple. Viv’s other options fill her with terror. She’d be sent away to “one of those hospitals,” she says. “And the other ways...I just can’t do it” (page 261). Discuss the meaning of the frightening alternatives Viv references and the expression “getting oneself into trouble.” Why is the child’s legitimacy via marriage so important in the era in which the book is set? Discuss other customs, values and social expectations in the book that limit and trap Viv and other women of her time.

2. How might Viv’s and especially Joshua’s lives have played out if this story was set in a Nazi-occupied region of Europe during World War II?

3. Not only does Joshua immediately “do the right thing” (page 262) by asking Viv to marry him, he promises to stand by her side as a husband and father. Then, just minutes after they’re married at the Liverpool Register Office, Joshua accepts money from Viv’s parents --- enough to get him to New York City to pursue his musical ambitions, to finally be free --- so long as he agrees to the Byrnes’ terms that “you will leave and never come back. You won’t write. You won’t visit. You will leave my daughter alone” (page 12). What do you make of Joshua’s decision to break his promise to Viv and forever estrange himself from her and their child after he had been so quick to offer himself as a husband and father?

4. Can you empathize with Joshua’s decision to “snatch his freedom” (page 13) and take advantage of what could be his only chance to try to become a famous musician? What would you do if you were in Joshua’s shoes and someone offered you enough money to pursue your greatest passion and realize your lifelong dreams?

5. The surprising series of events following the wedding are written from Joshua’s point of view, and the reader is privy to his internal dialogue as he rationalizes taking the Byrnes’ money: “He knew that he was destined for so much more than the two-bedroom flat above his father’s shop” (page 10). Joshua interprets Viv’s and his family’s dismay at and objections to his decision as testimony that they don’t, and never did, believe in him or his talent. He is convinced that they are holding him back and think he will fail. “This is my life too!” he exclaims. “I won’t give it up.” (page 13) What does Joshua’s reaction say about him and his sense of self? If this scene was written from Viv’s point of view, what might she be thinking? What about Joshua’s father? Or Rebecca?

6. At the end of the book, Joshua’s actions take on an almost complete reversal when he chooses to sacrifice his permanent gig with a band and the chance to record an album --- the very things he’s always dreamed of --- to return to Liverpool and be a father to Maggie. Discuss the elements of Joshua’s character arc.

7. According to the Author’s Note, on the eve of World War II, Operation Pied Piper officially relocated approximately 1.5 million children and vulnerable people from England’s urban centers to the countryside to keep them safe from aerial attack. If you found yourself presented with the conundrum faced by many parents of children under the age of five (the minimum age for the government evacuation program), like Viv, what would you do? Discuss the considerations and emotions of such a decision.

8. Life during wartime is filled with sacrifices small and large, from food rationing to the separation of children from their parents. Discuss the different sacrifices that the characters in the book make, not only due to the war but due to circumstances including time, place, class, religion and duty. What sacrifices seem “fair” vs. “unfair” in the context of life in the 1930s and 1940s? Can some of these “sacrifices” be positive? Discuss Viv’s job as a postie during the war.

9. What were your initial expectations about what would happen to Maggie and how she might be treated when she is first sent to live with the Thompsons? What elements of her experience as an evacuee surprised you?

10. Discuss Viv and Maggie’s reunion. Viv is understandably furious with the Thompsons for stealing her daughter, while Maggie is understandably frightened and uncertain about leaving her comfortable life with the people she has known as Mother and Father for five years. Do you think it’s fair to empathize with the Thompsons as well as Viv?

11. Weak men are abundant in this story. Some are identified explicitly, as in the cases of Mr. Byrne and Mr. Thompson --- “Mr. Byrne had been the epitome of a weak man” (page 334); “Mr. Thompson was a weak man” (page 358) --- and others by their actions, such as Joshua at the beginning of the book. Discuss other male characters that prove themselves “weak.” How do you feel about Mrs. Byrne and Mrs. Thompson when you compare them to their weak-natured husbands?

12. Discuss Father Monaghan’s character and actions. Do you believe that he thought he was doing the right thing by giving Maggie a “respectable Catholic home” (page 354)?

13. What do you make of Moss’ response to Viv when she asks him if he sought Joshua’s forgiveness after Joshua saved his life despite Moss’ harsh, prejudicial treatment of him: “The way I see it, it isn’t his responsibility to forgive me. It’s my responsibility to try to atone and one day, if I’m very lucky, he may find it in his heart to accept that” (page 331)? To what degree might this perspective have influenced Viv’s staunch resistance to forgiving Joshua for abandoning her?

14. Discuss the subject of forgiveness throughout the book. When do you think it’s fair to withhold forgiveness from someone who seeks it? Can people change?

The Lost English Girl
by Julia Kelly