Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Home for Broken Hearts includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Ellen Woods hasn’t left her home in nearly a year. Mourning the death of her husband, Nick, she stays sheltered inside, quietly doing her freelance work while her eleven-year-old son, Charlie, refuses to eat anything but fish sticks. Grief-stricken and unable to pay her mortgage on her measly salary, Ellen knows she has to do something. But when she takes her sister Hannah’s suggestion to board lodgers, she doesn’t expect to find anything more than a way to keep a roof over her son’s head. She certainly doesn’t expect to find herself.
Now, with the help of her newfound friends—Sabine, a bold German woman on the run from her cheating husband; Allegra, a cranky bestselling historical romance author; and Matt, a handsome young magazine writer and serial dater—Ellen’s numbness begins to fade. But when she finds out a shocking secret about her late husband and is accused by her son of being not only agoraphobic but also unable to take care of him, Ellen has a choice to make. She can either fall apart or she can pick herself up and start to live again.
QUESTIONS AND TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
1. A well-known English proverb claims that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Discuss how this saying is relevant to The Home for Broken Hearts.
2. Ellen mourns Nick’s death for most of the book, as do Charlie and even Hannah. In what ways do their behaviors reflect their grief? How does the grieving process differ for each of them, and in what ways is it the same?
3. Ellen and Hannah have a complex relationship fraught with envy, hidden anger, and jealousy. Is their conflict simply a case of sibling rivalry? How is it more than that?
4. Throughout the story, both Matt and Charlie undergo major changes. In what way does the twenty-six-year-old Matt come of age? How does it compare and contrast to Charlie’s growth from child to adolescent?
5. Discuss the phrase “it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Would Ellen agree or disagree with this statement? How might her opinion have changed throughout the course of the book and why?
6. What was your reaction when Charlie accused his mother of being agoraphobic? Did the notion cross your mind before he voiced it or did it take you by surprise, just as it did Ellen?
7. Discuss the author’s portrayal of men in the novel, both in terms of main characters and smaller players. What do you think Coleman was trying to say about men in today’s society?
8. Ellen, Hannah, Charlie, Sabine, Allegra, and Matt are all seemingly different people with different beliefs, jobs, and roles. In what ways are they alike? What do you think their similarities say about humanity as a whole?
9. Ellen spent the majority of her marriage fitting into the mold of who Nick wanted her to be. In what ways did she conform? Was she simply afraid to be her true self, did she just seek his approval, or did she change for another reason entirely?
10. What would you do if you found out your significant other was having an affair with your sibling? Do you think you’d be able to forgive either of them for their betrayal? Why or why not?
11. In chapter twelve, Allegra tells Ellen that “in life there isn’t always a hero to save a damsel in distress.” How does that advice foreshadow Ellen’s character development? How does it contrast with Matt’s involvement in Ellen’s growth?
12. Ellen describes herself as a “sexless being” while Matt, Hannah, and Simon are depicted as characters who sleep around. Even Allegra is a more sensual character than Ellen. Discuss how each character’s sexuality reflects his or her personality.
13. What message do you think the novel conveys about self-discovery and identity? How does the message relate to your life personally?
14. Ellen’s life changed in a positive way after a tragic circumstance. Discuss one such event in your own life and how it affected you in a similar way.
ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
1. Ellen’s pivotal moment of power, confidence, and clarity occurs when she dons her green dress and sexy undergarments. Go to your book club meeting dressed up in the outfit that makes you feel your most self-assured. Take turns sharing with the group why it’s your favorite ensemble.
2. Matt and Ellen get to know each other over late-night cups of tea. Bond with your book club by having a tea party or mix it up with some Long Island iced tea!
3. Allegra helps Ellen come up with the pen name Velvet Waters by putting together the name of Ellen’s first pet and the street she was born on. Come up with a device to create your own pen names and take turns sharing.
4. The concept of “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” is present throughout the novel. Bring an item from your home that you don’t want anymore and have a white elephant swap with your fellow book clubbers.