Reading Guide, Breaking the Silence

Discussion Questions
1. Laura makes a promise to her dying father to take care of Sarah Tolley. She pulls back from that promise when she realizes that Sarah can recall no connection to her father. Would you have continued visiting Sarah when those visits seemed both pointless as well as upsetting to your spouse?

2. Before Ray’s suicide, Emma is described as in independent, chatty little girl, strong enough to comfort her mother at her grandfather’s funeral. What did you speculate caused her regression and mutism after Ray’s death? How do you think Emma’s experience with mutism will change her as an adult?

3. Laura worries that she is not very good at motherhood or marriage. She recalls a professor telling her that as women move into male-dominated fields, they tend to lose their innate ability to nurture. Do you believe this is true? How does being a scientist impact Laura’s relationships with others?

4. Discuss the influence Sarah’s agoraphobic Aunt Jane had on her life. Are there people from your own childhood who strongly influenced your choice of career or lifestyle?

5. Laura goes to some unusual lengths to get Dylan to talk to her about Emma. Could you imagine trapping a man into that discussion the way she does during the balloon ride? What is it in Laura’s character that leads her to choose that particular way to force him to listen to her? How would you have handled Dylan’s refusal to speak with you?

6. Dylan is commitment phobic. Does his fear of involvement make sense to you? Why or why not. What in his character ultimately leads him to be willing to play a role in Emma’s life?

7. Sarah describes herself as homely and she’s surprised that Joe seems genuinely interested in her. What do you think drew Joe to her in spite of his mother and sister’s disdain? How would you describe Sarah and Joe’s relationship? How does it compare to the relationship building between Laura and Dylan?

8. Were you aware of the CIA’s clandestine mind control experiments? Discuss what drove the CIA to develop this project. Do you think there can ever be a legitimate reason for the creation of such a program? What lessons can be learned for the future, as both individuals and as nations, from this experience?

9. Ray is a complex character. Discuss his motivation for his passionate work for the homeless. Do you see him ultimately as good or evil or somewhere in between?

10. Sarah and Laura are both protective of their daughters. How else are they similar to–and different from–one another as mothers?

11. How does Laura’s involvement with Sarah change the older woman’s life? How would her life have been different if Laura had not come into it? Is there a message in this story for your own life?

12. What do you think the future holds for these characters? What do you hope the future holds for them?