Book Club Questions for Sugar Birds
1. Why does Aggie’s dad Harris teach his daughter to sketch birds? What does he want her to look for? Does she ever find it?
2. Fathers play a significant role in the novel. How do their presence and absence affect Aggie? Celia? Cabot?
3. Fearful mother Bree believes she can keep Aggie safe by controlling her environment. Aggie believes the forest will protect her. The Heidelberg catechism challenges the concept of external safety: “Lord’s Day Nineteen . . . Second, by his power, he defends us and keeps us safe from all enemies.” Discuss the themes of fear and safety in the novel.
4. Both Celia and Aggie are deeply wounded by their mothers. Discuss the specifics, as well as the girls’ longings, responses and outcomes.
5. How does Aggie’s guilt distort her perceptions of people and influence her choices? Consider how she, and we, create our own exiles.
6. Is Celia’s father Wyatt justified when he tricks Celia into coming north? What could he have done differently? Discuss violation of trust—and its consequences—in the novel.
7. Discuss the influence grandmother Mender has on Celia. Evaluate pros and cons of her example/mentorship.
8. Connect the wild forest to the characters’ inner wildernesses. How does the natural world affect Aggie? Celia?
9. How do autism and synesthesia manifest in Burnaby? Explore how both syndromes enhance and restrict his keen intelligence. How is his position on the spectrum both a benefit and a challenge in his relationships?
10. Does Aggie perceive her Uncle Loomis and Aunt Nora accurately? Does her understanding of them change? Explain.
11. How does Cabot’s history shape his behavior? How does Celia’s sympathy for his difficult past make her vulnerable to his manipulation? What clues to Cabot’s narcissism does Celia dismiss at first?
12. How does Aggie’s suffering cause her to question what her dad has told her about the Father? Do later events cause her to reconsider? How?
13. “Consider the birds . . .” appears in the book’s front matter. Discuss the role birds play in the story’s themes of redemption and hope. Where else does redemption appear?
14. Discuss where and how the theme of forgiveness appears in the story.
15. For over a month, no one can find Aggie. Discuss how searchers’ assumptions/expectations limit their ability to find her. How do other characters’ assumptions/expectations limit their understanding of Burnaby? How are we similarly limited?
16. How do Aggie’s wound and Bree’s brain heal?
17. What happens (internally and externally) to both Bree and Aggie to reunite them?
18. Explore how Celia and Aggie change over the course of the story. Consider their growth (or lack of it) in compassion, resilience and purpose.
19. What sentence or paragraph would you want to read aloud to someone? Why did it resonate with you?
20. What is a Sugar Bird? Explore the significance of the book’s title.