1. At one point in the novel, Ginnie Dillard says to her daughter Dobbs: “When you love, it will hurt. You have to choose to forgive, again and again. But it’s worth it. That’s the crux of human relationships, Dobbs. The sweetest thing. Loving deeply. And forgiving…”
Do you agree with her? What is “the sweetest thing” to you?
2. In chapter five, Perri says about Dobbs: “I had never before felt the tightening in my soul that I felt for Dobbs. Most of my friends I’d known forever, but my bond with Dobbs came swiftly, desperately, born from all the things breaking inside me. She had a kind of intuition that read my mind and peered deep in my soul. I found that I needed to be near her.”
Have you ever experienced this in a friendship–a sudden bond made through difficult circumstances? Did this friendship last?
3. At another point in the story, Perri says: “Mary Dobbs Dillard rescued me from the worst of myself; she came to me as a gift, and we spent that time in a bubble. I asked myself why the bubble burst–or more precisely, if it had to. Was I destined to retreat back into the pain of my world instead of pressing forward with Dobbs and the one thing that she offered me–an uncharted life of guaranteed adventure that would take me far, far outside of myself?”
Have you ever had to choose between beginning a friendship that is hard–but challenging and ultimately beneficial to you–and staying with the status quo? If so, which did you choose? What do you now think about that choice?
4. What does the little book Patches from the Sky represent in the novel? Have you found consolation–a path through grief–through Bible passages and literature? How and why has this helped?
5. The Sweetest Thing is about friendships and the influence they can have on us. Near the end of the novel, both Perri and Dobbs find themselves doing things that resemble the other person’s actions or thoughts. Have you ever found yourself adopting the habits, expressions, even beliefs, of a friend, although at first you were diametrically opposed to them? Ultimately was this positive or negative?
6. Discuss the themes of survival and provision throughout the novel. What do you believe about Dobb’s insisting that “God will provide.” Have you ever needed God to provide for you in a very practical way? What did you learn from this experience about faith and trust?
7. Dobbs has a crisis of faith. Does it come out of nowhere? Have you ever experienced a “crisis of faith?” If so, how did you resolve this crisis?
Is it wrong to doubt one’s faith? Is it possible never to have doubts? Dobbs said that Jackie Brown was the fault line in her theology. Are there any circumstances in your life that cause you to doubt what you have previously believed?
8. Discuss if and how the secondary characters in the story evolve:
The Phi Pis
9. Discuss the evolution in the relationship between Dobbs and her father. What caused it to evolve?
10. Look at the conversation between Dobbs and her mother (chapter twenty-five)
“I keep asking God over and over again, Why? Why?”
Mother’s voice was a bare whisper. “That’s not the right question, Mary Dobbs. You’ll drive yourself crazy asking that question.”
“So what are you supposed to ask?” I said bitterly.
Mother shrugged. “Honey, I’ve learned to ask not why but what? ‘Now that I’m in this impossible place, Lord, what do I do next?'”
Do you agree with Ginnie Dillard’s advice to her daughter? Do you tend to ask “Why” when bad things happen? If so, is this okay? What other questions do you ask?
11. The position of servants in 1930s South was difficult and unjust. Discuss the way the Singletons and the Chandlers treated their servants. Was Aunt Josie’s way of protecting her servants justified?
12. Perri was tempted to sacrifice many things for the sake of providing for her family. What do you think about her motivations? Have you ever had a “Spalding” (not necessarily in the form of a person) come into your life and tempt you? How did you respond?
13. Near the end of the novel, Aunt Josie says that “In the times we are living in, people are desperate, Mary Dobbs. People have had plenty and now they are on the verge of losing it all.” Discuss the way the financial crisis of 2008-2009 has affected people in the US. Do you see and similarities to the way it affected the people portrayed in the story?
14. Early in the novel, Dobbs tells Perri, “I’m praying that one day God will provide something for you, you alone, Perri Singleton, in a way that you won’t be able to doubt it is from Him.”
Discuss Perri’s conversion experience. Have you ever had a spiritual encounter like Perri? Have you ever had a friend pray for you in a certain way and later see the realization of her prayer?
15. At the end of the story, both Dobbs and Perri seem to be following their calling. How does faith play into this for each girl?