Another Life Altogether by Elaine Beale
Photo: Ben Goldstein/Studio D
1. In the opening of the novel, Jesse writes herself letters from the mother she wished she had. Discuss this opening scene in the novel, which is the beginning of Jesse's development as a writer. How do the letters function in the novel?

2. Do you think it's significant that all three of Tracey's friends are named Debbie? Why might Elaine Beale have chosen to give them all the same name?

3. When Jesse reads the letter her grandmother wrote to her mother, she realizes that her mother had covered up her stay in Delapole by claiming she had shingles. "Why," Jesse wonders to herself, "was everything in my family shaded in lies?" (p.92). What do Jesse and her family gain from hiding the truth? In what ways does it backfire? Discuss the role of secrets in the novel.

4. When Jesse first encounters her English teacher, Ms. Hastings, she compares her to her aunt Mabel, another single, relatively independent and free-spirited woman. Compare and contrast the two women. What effect do they each have on Jesse?

5. Another Life Altogether can be said to be about Jesse's struggle to choose between being popular and doing what's right. Discuss a time when you had to make a similar decision.

6. Discuss the role of place in the novel. Why do you think the novel begins with Jesse's fantasies about her mother's exotic travels?

7. Just as Malcolm's caravan is perched on the edge of a cliff, many of the characters in this novel seem to live on the precipice, in danger of falling over the edge. How do the characters in the novel—from Jesse's parents and Aunt Mabel to Amanda, Malcolm, and Jesse herself—deal with the forces and circumstances that threaten to pull them down?

8. How do people's homes in the novel reflect their inhabitants?

9. Jesse's urge to fit in, to be normal, is in part what drives the novel. How is "normality" represented in the novel?

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