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Tender Graces Reader's Guide

Tender Graces is haunted by many ghosts. How does the spiritual world aid both the young and the adult Virginia Kate?

The supernatural is a very real presence in Tender Graces. What psychic power does Miss Darla have? How does she help Virginia Kate, physically, emotionally, and spiritually? Explain the significance of the green-eye-jeweled horse pendant she gives to Virginia Kate.

How does Virginia Kate bear hardship? What extra-sensory power does she have? What is her quest? Has Virginia Kate broken the spell of her mother and grandmother's lives?

What kind of person is Grandma Faith? Instead of running away, she uses her money to purchase material for a red dress, among other items, for Katie Ivene. Why do you think she does so? How do you think she died? Discuss her continuing presence in the book as a guiding spirit.

Virginia Kate often refers to her West Virginia mountain as her "sister." What do you think she means by this appellation? Does Virginia Kate ever move emotionally from her mountain, as she moves physically and, if so, how? Additionally, explore the idea of mountain as character.

Katie Ivene is a tremendously complex character. Despite mocking her husband's knowledge of Shakespeare, she studies his books in secrecy. Why did she give away her children, one by one? During her recovery after the accident, does Katie Ivene finally realize the single most loving thing she can do for her daughter is to send her away for a second time? What evidence proves this theory?

Why does Micah remain silent for so many years about the truth of Uncle Ar-vile's death? How has Micah dealt with the event? What prompts him to tell the truth to Virginia Kate? Is Micah set free?

Andy seems to be the child least affected negatively by Katie Ivene's actions. How does he retain his resilience and good humor, even after being tricked into abandonment in Louisiana? Why is he a risk-taker? Does he constantly test himself against some imagined challenge?

Frederick remains a puzzle until nearly the end of the book. Does Virginia Kate ever gain insight into her father's drinking, his leaving, and his womanizing? What ties him to such a destructive personality as his mother? What does he do to signify he is at last able to break free from not only his mother's legacy, but from Katie Ivene's "spell"?

What makes Laudine so downright "ornery"? Discuss Laudine's relationship with Katie Ivene, Frederick, her grandchildren, and with Rebekha. How does she compare with Grandma Faith?

How is Rebekha capable of such unselfish love? Why is she so different from her own mother? Do you see her as a force of salvation? If so, explain who she saves and how.

Why did Rebekha's mother insist on taking a picture of the young Rebekha holding her dead infant brother? What does this action say about her? Is Rebekha correct in her assessment that her mother blames her for Laurence's tragedy?

Discuss Bobby's adoration of his "half" siblings, particularly Andy. Do you think he is "the lucky child?" What is his important role in his "half" sibling's lives?

Why is Aunt Ruby evil? Or is she completely evil? Discuss her abuse of her sister Katie Ivene's children. And why are Arville's and Ruby's deaths so satisfying to the reader? Discuss the universal human longing for evil to be horrifically punished.

How is Uncle Jonah untouched by the "taint" of some that are his kin? How did he escape his past?

What is Anna Mendel's significance in the novel? What drives Anna Mendel as a force for good?

Though the reader encounters Mrs. Mendel's nephew Gary only twice in the book, he is in Virginia Kate's consciousness by the conclusion. How does Virginia Kate respond to his presence?

What role does Amy Campinelle and Mr. Husband play for Virginia Kate? What about Soot and Marco, Mrs. Portier? Are they symbols of stabilizing presences in Virginia Kate's life?

Discuss the friendship between Virginia Kate and Jade. Why does Virginia Kate at first resist friendship?

The color red figures significantly in Tender Graces. Think of Katie Ivene's red lipstick, nail polish, and dress, for example. What does the color appear to mean?

How does Virginia Kate think of the moon? Does she personify it as she does her mountain? Does it illuminate more than physical space?

Tender Graces lifts family celebration to an almost spiritual level. What are some of the events celebrated in both West Virginia and Louisiana? What part does food, music, and dance play in these celebrations? How does family celebration contribute to character development?

Fire is an important element in Tender Graces. What might Magendie be telling us with her uses of fire and ashes? Think about the fire that consumes both Grandma Faith's body and her house. Think, also, of the creation of Ruby and Katie Ivene, and remember that cremation was an unusual burial method in the novel's time frame. Why do you think Magendie chose to dispose of the two women's bodies this way? Virginia Kate burns Micah's drawing of the bloody man with holes in him. Why didn't she simply throw away the disturbing picture? Is Magendie referencing Celtic mythological wildfire in her novel and in what ways?

Obviously, Fionadala's name is Celtic. Why do you think Magendie chose this name for Virginia Kate's imaginary horse? Is the horse imaginary? Is there a possibility that Virginia Kate sees the horse as real?

Who do you think are Grandma Faith's mother's kin? What part do you think heredity plays in the development of Magendie's characters? Does environment play an equally important role? Does the utter isolation of mountain hollers affect character development? How about the humid, Spanish moss-hung locales of south Louisiana?

Photographs figure prominently in Tender Graces. What is Magendie trying to show us about their power? What is Virginia Kate trying to clearly see?

What does her beloved sister mountain symbolize allegorically? How about the moon? Fionadala? Discuss Tender Graces as allegory.

What exactly are the tender graces referenced in Magendie's title? Do all characters receive grace? Which characters are open to unearned blessings?

Look over Magendie's Shakespearean allusions. What layer of meaning is added to Tender Graces by literary allusion?

Does Magendie write about religious hypocrisy? Think about Grandma Faith's very name. What is its significance? Which characters exhibit unwavering faith—in themselves, in God, in both dead and alive loved ones, in a divine intellect? Does their faith help them in their life journeys, and, if so, in what ways?

Many characters in Tender Graces are on quests of different kinds. What is Virginia Kate's quest?

Does Katie Ivene have a deliberate quest? Is there something for which she aches and searches? Why does she only appear to be a bad mother? Can you locate proof that one of her quests is indeed motherhood, though on the surface she seems to have her sights sets on far less worthy ideals?

What is Frederick's quest? Why does he marry Rebekha? What role does education play in Frederick's life? Does he hand down his passion for learning to his children? Why does Frederick so inconsistently deal with his addiction to alcohol? Does he find peace?

What is the "releasing" Magendie references at the end of Tender Graces?

--Tender Graces Reader's Guide created by Mary Ann Ledbetter, teacher/writer; Baton Rouge, Louisiana