Reader’s Guide

Reading Group questions for The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley

1. The central relationship in this story is the one between Samuel Hawley and his daughter, Loo. In what ways are they similar, and in what ways are they different? How do Hawley and Loo evoke the special bond between fathers and daughters?

2. So much of this story begins at the “Greasy Pole.” What did you like about this particular chapter? How does it color your understanding of the distinctive town of Olympus, Massachusetts? How does it shift your perspective of Hawley, as a father, and as a man?

3. Discuss the theme of secrets. What are the secrets that drive the action of the novel? How do secrets bring characters together? How do they drive them apart?

4. So many great stories are founded on the distinction between heroes and villains, but in this novel, the line between the two is not so easily discernible. Who do you feel are the heroes of this story? And who are the villains? How did this novel make you rethink how you define good and evil?

5. Discuss the structure of this novel. How does the switch between past and present contribute to the arc of the story? How does it deepen our understanding of Hawley and Loo, and connect these two very different “coming of age” stories?

6. In this novel we are taken on a road trip across America. How do the themes of travel and searching play a role in this story? Which setting did you enjoy the most? And when Hawley and Loo finally settle in Olympus, how does this new, permanent home impact them?

7. As we get to know Hawley and Loo, we begin to understand that “Loo’s mother had been dead for years but she had never been invisible.” How does Lily play a role in the novel, even though she is no longer with her husband and daughter? How does her absence drive their actions and motivations?

8. While so much of this novel concerns the stories of relationships between characters, there is also great significance in the relationships between these characters and nature, like Lily and Loo’s fascination with the stars, for example, or Hawley’s interactions with a whale. How does the natural world contribute to the storylines of these characters, and help them find their place in the universe?

9. This novel focuses on the love between a parent and child, but there is also romantic love between Hawley and Lily, Mary Titus and Principal Gunderson, and especially Loo and Marshall Hicks. How does their bond change Loo? What do you think of Marshall as a character? How do you feel about what happened between the two of them?

10. Objects play a huge part in this novel, from the watches to the star map to the bathroom shrine of Lily’s things. For Hawley and Loo, these objects carry important memories. How do these pieces of the past influence the present? How do characters’ memories help or hurt them? And which objects did you remember the most, after you’d finished reading the book?