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

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?