1. The first chapter of The Madonnas of Echo Park is actually a fictional Author's Note, telling the story of the real Aurora Esperanza and the inspiration for the novel. Did you read the Author's Note before starting the novel? Did you realize it was fictional? Do you prefer to know an author's thoughts about their book before you start, or formulate your own thoughts about it first?
2. The reporters that cover the drive-by shooting raise questions about the positioning that saved Aurora and placed Alma Guerrero in the path of the bullet. Felicia seems doubtful herself about what actually happened during the shooting. Was it just a mother-daughter spat, or did survival instincts kick in and shape the incident?
3. "Tall poppy syndrome" or "crab mentality" is often pointed out by observers of minority cultures, when a member of the community achieves, or has goals, outside of the average and is dragged down or derided by others. Do you see this at work in any of the characters' lives?
4. The incident on Efren Mendoza's bus highlights the racial tensions simmering below the surface of everyday L.A. Was the bus driver trying to manage an unmanageable situation, or acting out of his own prejudices?
5. Aurora, speaking of her obsession with Morrissey, says, "You can't help who, or what, you love." Is she speaking solely about music, or is there a broader context for her statement? Do you agree with her?
6. Felicia works for wealthy white people cleaning their homes; Hector and Diego do construction work off the books. Are these genuine opportunities, or examples of immigrants being taken advantage of?
7. Beatriz (Felicia's mother, Aurora's grandmother) believes she has been visited by Our Lady of Guadalupe at a bus stop on Sunset Boulevard. Do you believe in religious visions, or is this simply a hallucination brought on by age and guilt?
8. Juan's father, Manny, is an ex-gangster. What purpose do gangs serve for their neighborhoods? Are they the only option available for many teens, or an actual choice on the part of their members? Can people truly change, after being involved in that kind of violence?
9. Felicia knows her employers as Rick and Mrs. Calhoun, despite the fact that she becomes much closer to Mrs. Calhoun than Rick. Is the way she refers to them indicative of their relationships? Why doesn't it change with the changing circumstances?
10. Are the Calhouns camouflaging their dysfunction with charitable acts, or are they genuinely sympathetic to Felicia? Is this an accurate portrait of their society/demographic? Are the Calhouns' dark secrets the exception or the rule?
11. Which character was your favorite, and which your least favorite? Which did you identify with the most?
12. The Madonnas of Echo Park has many points of view and many connections that are often revealed slowly. Did the structure of the novel enhance or detract from the reading experience? Would you change it? If so, how?
Tips to Enhance Your Book Club
1. The Madonnas of Echo Park is inspired by a childhood incident that the author can't let go, as told in the Author's Note. Consider it from the real Aurora's perspective, and ask members to share a formative moment from their own childhood, in which they were refused something because of who they were or how they were perceived.
2. Several of the characters mention favorite musicians from their teen years—Aurora was obsessed with Morrissey, Angie loved Gwen Stefani and No Doubt, and Alma enjoyed Madonna. Ask members to pick an artist who was essential to their teen years and bring their favorite song by that musician to the meeting.
3. Immigration reform is a perennial topic in American politics, with many calling for more aggressive laws while others believe that more leeway should be allowed. Have members vote anonymously on immigration reform—stricter or more relaxed—and discuss the results.
4. Have a book club movie night: watch A Day Without a Mexican, in which the entire Hispanic population of California disappears. How does the portrayal of Angelinos, both white and Hispanic, compare with The Madonnas of Echo Park?
5. Ask each member to select their own Echo Park, a real place that they would write about, to discuss with the group.
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From the July 2010 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
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