1. Rather than relying on a single
narrator to tell this moving, complex story
that takes us from the Great Depression to
today, Amy Greene uses the voices of six
characters in different time periods to share
their memories, their family histories, their
connections to one another, and the
circumstances that have enriched their lives
or led to unintended sorrow. Why do you think
she chose to tell the story this way? How do
the characters’ voices differ from one
another—their language, dialect, and
colloquialisms—both between and within the
2. Byrdie, for all the losses and
heartbreak she’s experienced, remains
resilient, selfless, and loving. Why do you
think Greene chose to begin
’s story by going back into Byrdie’s
sometimes painful history? How does Byrdie
foreshadow what’s to come for Myra, both in
her dreams and premonitions about John Odom,
and also through her own experiences—namely
her romance with Macon and the loss of her
own children? What does
learn from Byrdie, and what lessons does she
forget too easily?
3. Magic plays an important role in this
story, just as it has in the real lives of
generations of Appalachian families. Byrdie
is the niece of “granny women” who
believe that a curse on her family will be
lifted when a baby with “haint blue” eyes
is born, yet
’s birth seems to lead to even more trouble
for the Lambs. Why doesn’t
’s birth break the curse? Do you think the
curse even existed in the first place? Why do
tradition and superstition exert such a
strong hold on the family, even on an
educated character like Ford Hendrix?
is depicted as an often bleak place in this
novel, where poverty, abuse, and violence are
endemic. Yet it is also described as a place
of great beauty. All of the female characters
marry and have babies at a young age, which
at times makes their lives more
difficult—their husbands can be unreliable,
even cruel—but some of their relationships
are shown to be warm and loving. How do these
contrasts create tension in the story? What
social, political, and economic questions do
you think the novel raises?
5. In Doug’s narrative, he speaks of the
and the important role the natural world
plays in his boyhood relationship with
. What does the mountain represent to Doug
, and to the other families who live there?
How does their isolation from the rest of the
world cause problems, and how does it
occasionally benefit them? Why do you think
has “itchy feet,” and how does she pass
that restlessness on to her children?
6. Wild Rose is an untamable horse with
seems to have a special, even primal,
connection. What does Wild Rose represent for
? For Doug?
7. Byrdie passes the blood red ring she
stole on to
, who in turn gives it to Johnny and Laura.
Beyond its material value, why is the ring so
important to each of them? What else does
pass on to her children—what less tangible
legacies does she leave with each of them?
8. Why do you think
loves Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey”?
How does poetry provide both her and Johnny
with a means of escaping reality in some of
their worst moments? How does Johnny’s own
writing help him get past all the hardship
9. What life-changing insights does Johnny
gain while serving time in jail? What does he
mean about becoming empowered and learning to
use his anger in more productive ways?
10. How do you view
Johnny’s chance meeting with Ford
Hendrix? Is it coincidence, or is something
more powerful at work? What do Johnny and
find appealing in Ford? Do you think
Ford’s visions are real, or are they,
along with his tales of how he lost his
finger, part of his storytelling gifts?