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Whidbey Reads Book Discussion Questions

  1. Discuss the setting of frontier Oregon as if it were a character: Is it seductive, comforting, dangerous? How does Esther's perception of it change throughout the novel?

  2. What did Esther's mother teach her about survival? How did being raised by a woman affect Esther's sense of self?

  3. When Pick takes Esther to Mr. Grist so that she can claim the homestead near Half-a-Mind, what do his actions say about the history of America's expansion in the Pacific Northwest, and about humanity's approach to natural resources such as water?

  4. What motivates Pick to be a rancher? Is he in it for the power or is he simply attached to the land? What separates him from the buckaroos? How is his relationship to the land different from Esther's or Ben's?

  5. How is Esther shaped by her talent as a woman of words: a diary writer, typist, typesetter, court reporter, journalist?

  6. What gives Jane and Violet authority in their community? What did Jane's secret past predict about her future? Ultimately, were her actions heroic or shameful?

  7. Would you have chosen Pick or Ben? Discuss the differences between rancher and shepherd as they play out in Little Century.

  8. How is the story line affected by the major events of the time period, especially the railroad expansion and America's intervention in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War? How do these events reflect the greed that spurs Century's range war?

  9. How do Esther's memories of Chicago compare with her life on the frontier? What freedoms and constraints does she experience in each place?

  10. Is Delores's ancestry the sole reason Pick rejects her and Marguerite? How does Esther help him understand his place in Delores and Marguerite's world?

  11. The novel's animals—sheep, horses, and cats in particular—play important roles. How do their needs and instincts compare with those of humans?

  12. Why is Esther concerned enough—even more so than the coroner—to uncover the truth about Joe's death?

  13. The author writes of the "net of cousins" comprising all creatures, in which friend and foe, hunter and hunted, are ultimately related. What prevents humanity from functioning as a generous, vast family?

  14. Discuss the closing images of Esther: What were her greatest sources of fulfillment in life?

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