1. How has Arden’s past shaped her into the person she is at the beginning of the novel?
2. The novel is set in Keokuk, Iowa, a town on the Mississippi River. At one time it was a prosperous town, but now many of its beautiful homes are neglected and deteriorating. How does the setting contribute to the overall story?
3. Arden’s mother warned her that it was a mistake to go back to Arrowood, saying it was best left in the past, and that if Arden was smart she’d “pray for an electrical fire and a swift insurance payout.” But Arden insists that she “had loved this house beyond reason, had felt its absence like the ache of a poorly set bone.” Discuss the role that the house plays in the novel.
4. To cope with the tragedy of the past, Arden’s mother rewrites history, pushing down her emotional pain and refusing to acknowledge the family’s loss. Toward the end of the novel, Arden says, “I couldn’t cauterize my wounds as my mother had done.” Can you relate to this coping mechanism? Compare and contrast Arden’s way of dealing with painful memories to her mother’s.
5. There’s a saying that you can’t go home again. What do you think it means? How does it apply to Arden’s situation? What do you think of her decision to stay in Keokuk and let go of Arrowood?
6. When asked why solving the mystery of the twins’ death was important to him, Josh says, “It’s like a riddle. . . . I hate not knowing the answer.” In what ways has Josh’s past shaped who he is as an adult? Do you think Josh’s and Arden’s analagous childhood experiences affected them in similar or different ways? How does Josh’s work with his website, Midwest Mysteries, compare to Arden’s thesis project?
7. In your opinion, who was responsible for the death of the twins?
8. Describe the relationship between Arden and Ben. Did the way it evolves in the novel surprise you? What did you expect to happen between them? Did your feelings about Ben’s mother, Mrs. Ferris, change over the course of the novel?
9. In what fundamental ways has Arden changed by the end of the novel? Do you think she will finally be able to move forward?
10. What did you think of the book’s surprise ending—-or was it a surprise? Discuss the role of memory in the novel. How are memory, truth, and nostalgia (“the bittersweet longing for a time and place left behind”) intertwined, and what impact do they have on the present--day lives of the characters? If Arden were to rework her thesis for graduate school, what would she write?