Book Discussion series: Belle Prater’s Boy

***JUST SO YOU KNOW*** All of the posts in our book discussion series contain questions and reviews that could possibly reveal parts of the plot you may rather discover by reading the book.  Proceed with caution!***

The Book Discussion Series enhances the reading experience by providing a list of interpretive questions compiled by librarians of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library


Discussion Questions:

  • How would you describe this book? What genre is it?

  • What did you think of Woodrow’s explanation that the secret is hiding in the lines of this poem (p. 15)? Why do you think he says this? What do you think the poem means? What does it mean to Woodrow and what does it mean to Belle?

  • Gypsy asks her grandmother why she named her younger daughter Belle. Why do you think the author has chosen the names that she has? What do the names tell you about the characters? Are they always appropriate? Can you think of some examples?

  • Jokes. Both Gypsy and Woodrow tell jokes (as do other characters in the book). Why do they tell jokes? Why is it important that they are good at telling jokes? What role do jokes play in the book? How would the book be different without the jokes?

  • Why does Woodrow tell his outrageous stories? Some of them are true and some of them are clearly made up. Why? In which situations does he tell them? How do the other characters react to his stories?

  • Woodrow tells Gypsy about this place with the air that vibrates, the place where two worlds touch. Why do you think he tells her this? Why does he use this as the explanation of what happened to his mother? What did you think when you read about this supernatural explanation of what happened? When Woodrow reveals what really happened, we find out that Belle made up this place. Why do you think she did this?

  • How would you define family? How would you describe Gypsy’s and Woodrow’s family? Why does Belle run away from this?

  • Woodrow tells Gypsy about how his mother could relate to both the man in the straight jacket in prison and the man trapped in the cave. Why do you think Belle felt so trapped?

  • What do you think of Belle? What do we find out about her throughout the book? How do we find out what we do? What did you think happened to her in the beginning of the book? How did your ideas about what happened to her change?

  • This book is told from Gypsy’s point of view. How does this point of view affect how we see what is going on? How would this book have been different with a different narrator? What if Woodrow had been the narrator? Or if it had been written in third person?

  • Why do you think the author chose this title for the book? What sort of preconceptions do we begin with? How does this change as we get into the story?

  • At the end of the book Woodrow admits that appearances really can be deceiving. Where and how do we see this?

  • Appearances are very important in this book. To which characters is this most true? What are some examples where appearances play an important role?

  •  Which characters place the least importance on appearances? Do you think that appearances are important why or why not?

  • How would Amos and Love’s lives been different had they not placed so much importance on appearances? How would Belle’s?

  • Grandpa tells Gypsy it’s what’s in the heart that counts (p. 114). What kind of impression does this make on Gypsy?

  • Why does Gypsy cut off all of her hair? In an interview, the author explains that Gypsy’s appearance (and most importantly her hair) was a symbol to both Love and Amos of their perfect union. Why is Gypsy upset by this? How would you explain Gypsy’s statement that she felt invisible? Why do you think Belle felt this way, too?

  • Why does the author include the garden party in the book? What do you learn about the characters because of it?

  • Why do you think Belle chose to leave the way that she did? Why did she choose not to leave a trace of what happened to her? Why did she take Woodrow’s clothes and not her own? Why didn’t Woodrow tell anyone?

  • Why does Woodrow wait so long to tell Gypsy the truth about his mother? How do you think Gypsy feels about this when she finds out the truth? On the other side of the coin, Gypsy withholds the truth about her father (though Woodrow knows part of this truth). Both children hide the truth from themselves as well as from each other. Why? What makes them eventually able to share their stories?

  • How do you learn about what happened to Gypsy’s father? What clues are you given along the way? Did you anticipate the revelation before it was made?

  • Gypsy comes to understand the truth. She says, Aunt Belle had left Woodrow on purpose just like my daddy left me. Not because they didn’t love us. They did. But their pain was bigger than their love (p.195). What do you think she means by this? How do you think she is able to come to this conclusion and to be so forgiving about their situations?

  • Gypsy and Woodrow almost instantly become best friends. Why do you think this is? In which ways are Gypsy and Woodrow similar? In which ways aren’t they similar? Who do you think gains the most from their friendship? Who is the better friend?

  • Woodrow quickly becomes very popular. Why is this? Would you want him for a friend? Would you want Gypsy for a friend?

  • When Gypsy and her mother are discussing what happened with Belle and Amos, Gypsy says it wasn’t your fault¦ nor Daddy’s either (p. 41). Do you agree with her? Why do you think she has this reaction to the situation?

  • Why does Gypsy treat her step-father the way that she does? By the end of the book do you think her attitude toward him is changing? How does this happen?

  • This book has received many awards. What do you think makes an award-winning book? Why do you think this book has received so many awards? One review states that Belle Prater’s Boy does what outstanding literature ought to do: it both entertains and enlightens. Do you think this is a good description of what outstanding literature does? Do you agree that this book does it? In what ways does it or doesn’t it fulfill this definition?

  • The same review that mentioned a definition of outstanding literature also claims that Belle Prater’s Boy is a book worth remembering. Do you agree? How do you define a book that is worth remembering?

  • What did you think about the use of dialect in the book? Why do you think the author chose to write the book this way? How would the book be different if it had been written in standard English?

  • What role does Blind Benny play in this book? Why do you think the author has included him? How would the book have been different had he not been included? Think about how different characters react and interact with him. What do you learn about Woodrow from the fact that he befriends him? What do you learn about Gypsy’s parents from the way they treat him?

  • How does the setting (both in terms of the time period and in terms of the story being placed in a small, Appalachian coal-mining town) affect the story?

  • What is the role of Truth in this book? Woodrow is asked if his stories are true. Why do people ask this? Woodrow and Gypsy are both hiding truths about themselves and their pasts. How is truth important? Do the characters value truth? Which characters place the most value on truth and truthfulness? Why?



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