Reading Guide, The Courage Tree

Discussion Questions
1. Janine carries a great deal of guilt inside her. What is it about her personality that causes guilt to eat away at her? What is it in her upbringing that contributed to those personality traits? Do you think her guilt is merited?

2. Janine is a strong woman, unafraid to climb into a helicopter to search for her missing daughter despite the stress of the situation and her anxiety over Sophie’s fate. Yet she’s weak when it comes to facing her parents and ex-husband. Discuss this dichotomy in Janine. Are there two sides to you as well?

3. Discuss the reasons for Janine’s attraction to Lucas. How did her relationship with her parents influence that attraction? How did her relationship with Joe influence it?

4. Janine risked the love of her parents and her husband to pursue her dream of flying. Can you relate to her yearning to get her pilot’s license? Have you had other passions you followed—or did not follow?

5. Even before Janine allowed Sophie to go on the camping trip, her parents and Joe formed a powerful triad against her. Discuss why these three people were drawn to one another and why they seemed to turn against Janine.

6. How did you feel about Janine turning to an alternative treatment for Sophie? What were your thoughts about Herbalina as the story progressed?

7. How did you feel about Lucas throughout the book? When did you realize he had a secret side to him? Was there a point where you thought you had his secrets figured out? Were you right? What did you think was going on with him when he had to return to Vienna during the search? How do you feel about his deception in his relationship with Janine?

8. The triangle between Janine, Lucas and Joe intensifies throughout the story. Which of these three characters garnered most of your sympathy and why? Did that change at different points in the story?

9. The character who grows and changes the most in the story is Joe. Discuss those changes in him, and your feelings toward him throughout the story.

10. Sophie was four when she stopped believing in Santa Claus, and she never did believe in the tooth fairy. Why do you think she bought into the idea of the courage tree? Do you think Sophie was a typical eight-year-old? What forces shaped her into the little girl she was?

11. The Courage Tree is primarily a story about mothers and daughters. Mothers don’t ever stop seeing their child as a child, even when that child is grown. Zoe’s need to save her daughter, Marti, is as strong as Janine’s is to save Sophie, and her actions could be seen as single-minded and irrational. Discuss her personality. What in her makeup influenced her passionate need to help Marti. Could you relate to that need? Discuss her internal conflict between wanting to help Marti and wanting to do the right thing by Sophie. What would you have done in Zoe’s place as you weighed the needs of your daughter against Sophie’s?

12. Playwright George Bernard Shaw said “You cannot be a hero without being a coward.” Do you agree with that statement? How does it tie in to The Courage Tree?