1. At the beginning of the novel, Ellie says that ‘sometimes the breaking of things is cruel and sometimes it is necessary and sometimes it is just an accident.’

Think of the different ‘broken things’ in the story and put each into one of these three categories ‘cruel’, ‘necessary’, accident’:

  • Ellie’s disfigurement
  • Megan’s rape
  • Ellie’s escape into drugs
  • Robbie’s wounds from Vietnam
  • Mary Swan’s cancer
  • Rachel’s divorce
  • Nate’s handicap
  • The relationship between Ellie and Mary Swan
  • The relationship between Rachel and Ben
  • The relationship between the Bartholomews and the Matthews

Is there a similar solution for each of these broken things? If so, what is it? If not, what different solutions are possible? 

2. Think of different events in your own life which could be described as ‘cruel,’ ‘necessary’, or an ‘accident’. What has been your response to these events? Have you found healing and if so, how? 

3. Authors use symbols to reinforce the different themes in the story. Which symbols reinforce the theme of brokenness, of healing? 

4. What was your initial feeling toward Ellie? Did this perception change through the course of the novel and if so, how and why? 

5. In what ways does Ellie’s character represent ‘every man’ (or ‘every woman’)? Which of her characteristics could  you relate to and why? 

6. At the end of chapter six, Ellie says, “I kept staring at the piles, thinking that this was my friend Megan lying in pieces at my feet, fragile and destroyed. I never wanted to be beautiful after that.” What is your reaction to this scene in the book? 

Do you agree with Ellie’s perception of how society treats the physically beautiful? Discuss the challenges facing the physically handicapped and the physically beautiful?

7. Is Ellie’s anger toward her mother justified? Have you ever felt a similar anger and later discovered it was based on misconceptions? How did you handle this? 

8. What lessons does Ellie learn by looking back at her mother’s life and paintings? 

9. Have you ever been an outsider, listening to ‘Bartholomew Babble’? How did it make you feel and how did you handle it? Is that sort of “babble” ever justifiable? Have you ever been guilty of ‘Bartholomew Babble’? Why does it seem that Christians have a different way to communicate, and should Christians communicate differently? Doe you know anyone personally who feels ill at ease because of this kind of talk? Is it possible to remove Christian lingo/jargon without diluting the message? If so, how could you change the way you communicate? 

10. Look at the last four paragraphs on page 304. Ellie concludes the chapter with ‘Ben was showing me Jesus.’ Have you ever known someone like Ben? What was your response to this type of person? 

11. Do you think it is easier to confide in someone outside of the family in matters relating to faith and spirituality? Why or why not? 

12. At the end of chapter twenty (p. 341), Ellie is thinking: “As I curled up on my bed, I thought how one day could truly make a difference.” Why does she say this? Have you ever experienced something similar because you chose to forgive? 

13. In your opinion, who is the strongest character in the novel? What weaknesses does this character display? 

14. Who is your favorite character in the story and why? 

15. Discuss the different meanings of The Dwelling Place in the novel. Which can you most identify with and why? 

16. Project into the future: What happens between Ellie and Ben? Rachel and Ben? Mary Swan and Ellie? Do they ever travel to the Dwelling Place? Do they need to? What is Ellie’s relationship with Robbie, Abbie, and Nan?