9. Ryan thinks to himself: "You decided that your life would go in a certain direction, and maybe it did. Or maybe you were kidding yourself, and the world was mostly a matter of being in the right or wrong place at the right or wrong time." (p. 221) Do you agree? How much of Ryan's life is shaped by his choices, and how much does he simply allow to happen to him?

10. The author states, "Everybody in America is one of two things, either in or out." (p. 288) How does this theme of insider and outsider play throughout the novel?

11. Why does Anita bring Rhonda to live with her family? How is it true that sometimes a family needs an orphan?

12. For a while, Anita seems to be drifting through the duties of a wife and mother. What spurs her to take classes to become a realtor and get involved with Alcoholics Anonymous? Did Jeff's descent into alcoholism empower her to take charge of her life, or do you think she would have done so regardless?

13. Throughout the novel, Chip is consistently an outsider who never seems to have much going for him. However, he often provides poignant insights to Ryan and others, and doesn't seem to experience the lack of fulfillment that plagues many other characters. Why do you think this is?

14. Why do you think Ryan and Chip remain close throughout the years? Is Ryan more like Chip than he might want to admit? How so?

15. Why does Ryan buy the Peerson house?

16. Referring to the Peersons, Blake remarks, "They didn't think in terms of happy." (p. 409) Do you agree that the older generations were more content with what they had and less concerned with searching for happiness elsewhere? Discuss the characters' conceptions of happiness and whether or not they are able to find it. What constitutes true happiness?

17. Discuss the title of the novel. Why do you think Thompson chose this title? How does it capture the spirit of the novel?

Read O's review of The Year We Left Home

See which books made O's 2011 summer reading list


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