1. At the beginning of chapter one, Mary Swan explains that the year of 1962 was “most importantly, the year that I discovered the truth and truth always sets us free.” Do you agree with this statement? What truth is Mary Swan ultimately referring to?
2. Why are we afraid to speak the truth? Think of a time when you were confronted with the truth (ex. maybe someone dared to tell you what they really thought about something you said, did, etc). After the initial shock and pain, were you thankful? Was hearing the truth helpful? Why or why not?
3. At the end of chapter three, Mary Swan says, “Trixie and Ella Mae and Daddy performed an intricate if unseen act of grace to keep my mother balanced and functioning. And I never once saw it. That was their gift to me as I grew up. Secrecy and love.” What do you think of family secrets? How have they affected you and yours?
4. What is the relationship between Ella Mae and Mary Swan? Ella Mae and Sheila? Ella Mae and John Jason?
5. Which character in the book elicits the deepest emotions and strongest reactions from you? Why?
6. What are the pros and cons of the private education which Mary Swan, Rachel and Robbie are receiving? Is it a good thing to ‘shelter’ our kids and provide a private education? Why or why not?
7. Who is truer in her belief, Rachel or the Protestant girls who attend church as part of tradition?
8. Where are you prejudices? Do you acknowledge them or do you often begin sentences with “I’m not prejudiced, but…” Is there anything you should do about these attitudes?
9. What are you doing whatever wealth you’ve been blessed with? Which attitude best describes you?
10. What does the verse in the Bible “To whom much is given, much will be expected” mean to you?
11. Do you think that Miss Abigail’s character realistically portrays a life of sacrifice and love? Does her life attract or repel you? Why?
12. Look at the conversation between Miss Abigail and Mary Swan at the end of chapter seven (bottom of page 107-top of 109) dealing with the differences between the poor blacks in inner city and the rich whites in Buckhead. By the end of the book, how does Mary Swan come to view her privileged life in Buckhead? What has she learned about making sweeping generalizations about race and class?
13. What does this statement mean to you: “The ground is all even at the foot of the cross”? What is true faith?
14. At one point, Mary Swan says, “Ever since I’d been coming down to Grant Park, I’d been trying to figure out the way things worked in poor, inner-city Atlanta.” (p. 181) How does Mary Swan eventually gain a better understanding the inner city? What role does Carl play in this?
15. Have you ever tried to “get into the skin” of a person of a different race, religion, socio-economic background? If so, how has this changed your worldview? If no, spend some time reflecting on discussing what different issues would need to be considered in order to better understand people of a different background (race/religion/socio-economic) than your own.
16. Artistic expression (music, art, dance, writing, etc.) acts as therapy for many people. How have you found creativity to be helpful in your life?
17. What is the significance of the Swan House throughout the book? What does it symbolize for Mary Swan? For the people of Buckhead?