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Exclusively for Book Clubs

First and foremost, thanks for picking one of my books for your group. It's my hope that it inspires a wealth of information and discussion, ideally over beverages and snacks with the host's pup on a couch with one of you. In fact, I would LOVE to join in the conversation. You can request that I attend in person or virtually using the Contact form. There's no fee, and if I attend in person, I'll bring red wine and chocolate. WARNING: Spoiler Alerts Ahead for Those Who Haven't Read!

The Wind Will Catch You: Reader Guide

  • The book explores two philosophies that seem to motivate the characters: If you love someone, let them go. Or, if you love someone, you fight like hell for them. Are these two statements contradictory or can they coexist? What conclusions do Sky and Ben reach about them? How do they apply to your relationships?

  • After Sky and Ben are separated, their lives run parallel as they navigate similar challenges adapting to new living situations, schools, rules, friends, and cultural norms. Compare and contrast how each fared? What choices did they have to make, and did they make the right ones?


  • Sadly, the foster care system is not overdramatized in this story. What do you think was fair or unfair about the ways the children were treated, and what changes might be made to improve things? What biases, if any, do you have toward children who have been in foster care? Do you feel like biological children are easier to raise than adopted ones? What is society’s responsibility to children whose biological parents are no longer present or fit to raise them?


  • Birds are a frequent symbol in the book. Discuss the ways the author used birds, wild horses, rattlesnakes, and other natural elements to enrich the story and create meaning. How does the natural world inform your own life?


  • Sky and her mom, Samantha Fielder, have a complicated relationship that expands and contracts over time. Sky’s fear of abandonment causes her to make concessions. Do these serve her well? If so, how? Was she right in saying that her mother didn’t love her—that she loved the idea of her? How does her mother grow and change over time?

  • Ben is forced to navigate adult situations at a young age. In prison, Ben and Sleet talk about choices, and Ben wonders if other people have more options than he does based on the circumstances they were born to—in particular, rich people. Compare the diverging paths of Ben and Sky. Does a certain amount of wealth make life easier or offer more choices?


  • Ben’s decisions land him in juvenile prison. Do you feel that Ben’s punishment was justified? What might be done about juvenile offenders other than incarceration?


  • Micro and Sister Mary Margaret serve as advisors to Ben and Sky respectively within two very different institutional settings. How do they help them through difficult circumstances? What roles do spirituality and religion play in the narrative as a whole and in your own life? Does religion support or oppress and in what ways?    


  • At its heart, this book is a love story about the family we’re born to and the one we make. Sky finds Laura, but their characters are very different. What difficulties must be overcome for them to be together? Are they drawn to each other because of their differences or in spite of them? Discuss the glue that holds together your relationships. Do opposites attract?


  • Before the parking lot scene where the title of the book is said by Sky, many ideas about love are explored. At one point, Sky says that love is irrelevant. Her mother says that Sky needs her, but doesn’t love her, and her father asks if there’s a difference. Sky says that Ben’s death might be preferrable to learning he simply abandoned her. What does the title of the book mean? What conclusion about love does Sky come to? How do you define love?



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Teaching the Cat to Sit: Reader Guide

  • Explain the significance of the book’s title. Why do you think she chose this title for her memoir? Specifically, what does Michelle’s childhood relationship with Mittens, her family cat, tell us about her? What does the cat symbolize? 


  • Michelle’s therapist tells her, “You said your mom’s moods dictate how everyone in the family acts and reacts…. And yet you say she’s fragile, and you have spent your energy trying to protect her from anything upsetting…. I guess maybe I’m missing something. She sounds pretty powerful to me” (p. 195). Do you agree with Michelle’s therapist? Discuss examples of the power that Phyllis, Michelle’s mother, has over her family. 


  • When Michelle, Jill, and Connor visit Michelle’s parents’ house for Christmas, she says, “The house smells like pecan pie, but also of Lysol, perfume, and lemon Pledge—sweet and sanitized—welcoming us and asking us not to touch anything at the same time” (p. 118). How does Michelle’s statement apply to her relationship with her parents during her visit home? In what ways are Michelle and Jill made to feel both welcome and unwelcome? 


  • When Michelle and Jill decide to adopt a child, Michelle waits until they are far along in the process before telling her parents and sister about her decision. Why do you think she does so? Do you agree with her reasoning? Were you surprised by Michelle’s family’s reaction to her decision to adopt? Why or why not? 


  • Michelle writes, “Our first knowledge of right and wrong doesn’t come from God—it comes from our mothers” (p. 71). Discuss this statement with regard to Michelle’s relationship to her mother. What values does Phyllis impart to Michelle that resonate with her? Are the two able to reconcile the differences in their values? In what ways? 


  • Of Dale Crandall, Michelle’s father says, “He can’t be a bad guy if he got full custody. That’s something” (p. 31). What do you think of Dale Crandall? When Michelle tells her parents of the abuse that she suffered at Dale’s hands, how do they react? Were you surprised? Discuss Michelle’s attempts to gain closure. Do you think her trip back to Meeker to confront Dale is a good idea? Why or why not? 


  • When the time comes to adopt Connor and Jill and Michelle decide that he will take “Theall,” Michelle’s last name, as his own, she writes, “I made him belong to my family. I created permanent acceptance where I wasn’t assured of any” (p. 224). What does she mean by this statement, and why is it so important to Michelle that Connor take her last name? Discuss the families portrayed in Teaching the Cat to Sit. Compare and contrast the family that Michelle creates for Connor with the one in which she grew up. 


  • After Michelle and Jill pull Connor from Sacred Heart, she decides to speak about the school’s change in policy, first writing anonymous letters to the editors of the Boulder Weekly and Daily Cameraand ultimately speaking on record. What accounts for Michelle’s activism? Why does she ultimately decide to go on record with her story? 


  • Michelle and Jill keep a photograph of Brian and Tara, Connor’s biological parents, in his baby book. What are their reasons for doing so? How does Connor respond to seeing their photograph? Discuss the challenges that Michelle and Jill face as they raise Connor in light of his past. 


  • When Michelle is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, she decides to attempt to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. What are her reasons for doing so? Upon asking her guide about alternative routes and procedures, should she need to go back down the mountain instead of climbing with her group, she is told, “There is no way down except to go up” (p. 240). How does this statement apply to the rest of Michelle’s life? 


  • Were you surprised by the revelations about Father Kos? How does Michelle react to them? What effect, if any, do the revelations have on Michelle’s relationship both with the Catholic Church and with her mother? 


  • After reading Holly’s letter, Michelle says, “I’m always telling Connor that our words have power and meaning. Holly’s letter is a gut punch and a psalm” (p. 245). Why does Holly’s letter have such a profound effect on Michelle? Were you surprised to learn what became of Holly after she left Meeker? What are other instances in Teaching the Cat to Sit where one’s words have power? Discuss them. 


  • When Michelle moves to the mountains of Colorado, she finds refuge and, in it, “I allowed myself to realize several different things” (p. 231). What does she learn? Discuss the various revelations that Michelle makes about herself. Why does she ultimately leave her refuge in the mountains? 


  • After Michelle and Cassie break up, Coach Scott calls Michelle into her office to find out why her performance as a runner has been so poor lately. Coach Scott tells Michelle, “You haven’t learned to use the downhill” (p. 175). What does she mean by this statement? How does Coach Scott’s training practice apply to Michelle’s current situation? What do you think of Coach Scott’s advice? 


  • At her family reunion, Michelle and Connor are included in the Theall family photo montage, but Jill is not. Why has Jill been slighted? Michelle reacts by telling the reader, “In order to be a good mother, I may have to be a bad daughter” (p. 224). Why is this the case? Is she able to reconcile this conflict? If so, how? 


  • In the memoir, several of the characters have been abandoned--emotionally or physically--by their mothers, through death, mental illness, or instability. Discuss the role of motherhood and the impact its absence has on the lives of Holly, Father Bill, Father Kos, Brian, Tara, Michelle’s mom, and Michelle. What does it mean for Connor to have two moms? 


  • Nature versus nurture figures prominently as a theme within the book. Can you come to any conclusions about the dominance of one over the other in the text? 


  • Are you disappointed that Michelle offers to change her name? At what point do you feel she finally accepts her identity? 


  • Michelle says she sees Wink and Sparrow as a “refuge.” Do you agree? Why or why not? 


  • How do people stereotype Michelle, and in turn, how does she stereotype others? 


  • While the cat is a significant symbol in the book, birds also figure prominently throughout much of the memoir. How many references to them can you find and what are their meanings? 


  • Discuss Michelle’s faith in God. Does it become stronger because of adversity or in spite of it? 


  • Michelle concludes that God made her gay. Do you agree or disagree? Discuss the steps she took to accept her sexuality. What does true acceptance look like and does she attain it? 

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