Reading Group Guide
Willow Briars is a thirty-nine-year-old divorcee who works at a high-powered London talent agency. Overweight, divorced, and carrying a terrible secret from her childhood, she spends most of her evenings alone eating snacks in front of the TV or on yet another unsuccessful blind date. Willow’s only true confidantes are her slim identical twin sister, Holly, and her best friend and secret crush, Daniel Fayre.
Running errands one afternoon, Willow comes across a tiny antique shop with a pair of the most beautiful shoes she’s ever seen displayed in the window. The shoes make her feel slimmer, taller, sexier. When her life begins to change in ways she never anticipated, Will figures the shoes have a little magic power. Suddenly, Willow, the former loner, has a house full of people to look after and a whole new set of problems to work out. With the help of her newfound confidence and her new friends, Willow finds the courage to face the dark secrets of her past—and claim the future.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. What might explain why Willow’s new shoes seem to give her power? Have you ever had a piece of clothing or another item that seemed to give you a special boost of confidence or inner strength?
2. How is Willow’s past slowly revealed in the earlier parts of the novel? When did you start to realize that something terrible had happened to her?
3. Discuss the connection between Willow and Holly: “Holly was the psychic one, able to pinpoint exactly what Willow was thinking or feeling with eerie accuracy. Willow didn’t seem to have quite the same prowess for sisterly intuition, although she could always feel Holly there. . . .” Why might Holly be better at tuning in to her “sisterly intuition”? Have you known twins who were able to intuit each other’s feelings?
4. Discuss the theme of family in the novel. What does the novel say about the nature and definition of family? In a nontraditional, nonbiological sense, how would you describe a real family?
5. How does India’s affair with Hugh parallel Chloe’s situation, even though the two seem vastly different on the surface? Why do you think India and Chloe are able to become friends so easily?
6. Discuss the relationship between Chloe and Sam. How does Sam grow and learn from Chloe, though she is only a teenager? What are some of the ways he changes by the end of the novel?
7. How might hearing her mother’s confession be harder in some ways for Willow than living for so many years with her denial? Why can unveiling a secret sometimes be just as difficult as keeping it hidden?
8. Do you believe that Imogene really had no idea what was going on with Ian? What reasons does she have for staying in denial? Do you think Imogene deserves Willow’s forgiveness?
9. When Willow discovers the hidden message in the locket from the antique shop, she then examines all her other purchases for similar meaning: “But there was nothing. . . . Willow gathered the books into a pile and hugged them to her chest, her heart lightened by the knowledge that not everything meant something. Some things just were.” Why is this revelation a comfort to Willow? How is this idea relevant to other incidents in the novel?
10. Discuss Daniel and his relationship with Willow. Do you think he is truly a good friend to her? Why does Willow finally realize she does not love Daniel?
11. After confronting Mr. Jacobs with Sam and Chloe, Willow goes home and has a momentary “spasm of panic, suddenly afraid that she wouldn’t see either of them again. And then she remembered that she didn’t have to be afraid anymore. Of course they would come back. It was a novel sensation, the expectation of good things happening, rather than the certainty of the bad.” Discuss this passage. What has happened to allow Willow to feel safe for the first time in her life?
12. Were you happy that Willow ended up with James, or had you hoped that she would reconcile with Sam? What is it about James that attracts Willow the most?
13. When Chloe asks Willow if what she experienced with Mr. Jacobs is comparable to what Willow went through with Ian, Willow has to think very carefully about her answer. How would you compare and contrast the two incidents? Would you have given Chloe the same answer?
14. Do you think the final decision that Sam and Chloe make regarding the adoption is a good one? Did it surprise you?
15. Discuss the significance of the book’s title. Other than the abuse, why might Willow need a lesson in how to laugh? How is laughter representative of more than just humor? What other emotions can it convey?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Host an English-style tea party and serve a variety of teas, cakes, sandwiches, and other snacks. Or break out one of Willow’s favorite indulgences, some nice bottles of wine. Check out some tea recipes and history at www.joyofbaking.com/EnglishTeaParty.html and whatscookingamerica.net/History/HighTeaHistory.htm.
2. Before your next book club meeting, treat yourself to a new pair of shoes. Maybe go out on a limb with something sparkly and high-heeled in honor of Willow’s “magic” shoes! Then wear them to your meeting, where you’ll look and feel fantastic!
3. By the end of the novel Willow’s life has completely changed in a very short time. Write down five things that you’d like to improve or change in your life—even small things like taking fifteen minutes a day to relax and distress with a cup of tea. Then compare notes with your group on how you might achieve these goals.
4. If you like this novel, check out other books by Rowan Coleman such as The Home for Broken Hearts, The Accidental Mother, and Another Mother’s Life. You can also learn more about the author and her work at www.rowancoleman.co.uk and twitter.com/#!/rowancoleman.