Family dynamics can be both fascinating and frightening. From the bonds of love to the depths of betrayal, there’s no way one understands as to what would happen behind closed doors. And that’s exactly what bestselling Australian author Sally Hepworth explores in her novel, The Good Sister.
Similar to Black Cake, this book also explores how the people we know are far more than what they actually are. Hence, in this discussion guide, let’s have a look at some book club questions for The Good Sister and why it’s a must-read for anyone who is looking to learn more about family, betrayal, and manipulation.
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The Good Sister Book Club Questions
- The role of trauma in shaping the lives of the two sisters is instrumental in developing a proper storyline. Their experiences with their mother, combined with the accidental drowning of Billy and the trauma that followed, shaped their relationship – with Rose being the primary caregiver for Fern. The trauma has also affected their relationships with others, with Rose being more guarded and Fern being more vulnerable. And when things go galore in the end, I was a bit taken aback.
How did you digest the shocking twist at the end?
- Fern is a librarian and has sensory processing issues, while Rose is an interior decorator with type I diabetes. These differences affect their relationships in several ways. Fern is more introverted and relies on her sister for emotional support. She is willing to get pregnant for Rose and agrees to have the baby for her. Rose, on the other hand, is more extroverted and assertive. She is overbearing and intrusive in her relationship with Fern, which causes conflicts between them.
Did you expect two fraternal twins to have such distinct personality traits? And what could be Sally Hepworth’s motive for creating such characters?
- Nina – Fern and Rose’s mother had an overdose of Valium when they were 12, which left her with huge brain damage. She has been in a care facility ever since. This event has had a significant impact on Fern and Rose’s lives. Rose blames their mother for her emotional issues and does not visit her in the care facility. Fern, on the other hand, visits her weekly, and her memories of Nina are mostly good.
Taking such situations into account, when talented children don’t get that motherly love they deserve, what are the consequences? Has there ever been a situation in your life where you need that love from a parent but could not get it? Feel free to share it.
- Fern’s pregnancy is significant for Rose because she cannot have a baby due to her struggles with fertility. When Fern tells Rose about her pregnancy, Rose suggests that Fern have the baby for her, and Fern agrees. This arrangement allows Rose to fulfill her desire to have a child and gives Fern a way to repay Rose for her emotional support over the years.
Do you think such amazing siblings are what humans need in life? Also, discuss the moment when this arrangement puts a strain on their relationship, and Rose eventually becomes more intrusive and demanding.
- Wally’s entry into Fern’s life is significant because she desperately wanted a baby. But later, she feels a connection with him because he also has sensory processing issues, just like Fern. Also, his anxiety levels are just like Fern’s. Their relationship grows, and Fern begins to form new relationships at the workplace.
Do you think it was selfish for Fern to hide her real intent of being in a relationship in spite of seeing her life improve?
- The idea of blurred boundaries between sisters is a recurring theme in the novel, reflecting the complexity of sibling relationships. While Fern initially sees a little separation between herself and Rose, she eventually begins to realize that healthy boundaries are necessary. By the end of the novel, Fern is making healthier choices and setting boundaries with Rose, indicating her growth and development as a character.
This emphasizes the importance of establishing boundaries in any relationship, even between family members. Discuss.
- While Hepworth writes in the domestic thriller genre, her work is distinctive in its use of differing points of view and inclusive themes. Hepworth’s books often feature secrets between family members, such as the secrets Rose keeps from Fern in The Good Sister and familiar environments and relationships made eerie. Unlike other writers, Hepworth’s work does not rely heavily on the use of unreliable narrators but instead explores the perspectives of multiple characters.
Do you agree?
- The idea of twins in this novel represents the possibility of having a double or a doppelganger, along with the threat that such a person poses if it turns against the individual. The symbol can also represent balance and creation, and non-romantic intimacy. Now imagine if you had a twin who you had a disliking for after a particular event in your life.
Would your life shape up in the exact same way as it has been today, or the presence of this twin would have affected you in ways one cannot fathom?
- Fern has sensory processing issues that make her quite sensitive to sounds and smells, often leading to a multitude of self-doubts. This often results in her being anti-social.
Do you think this was the prime reason behind Rose controlling her? Also, in the later part of the novel, Fern becomes a much more confident and outgoing person. This shows that it’s never late to change one’s life, and we are more capable of what we always want to be. Discuss.
- The novel explores themes of gaslighting and abuse in families. Rose, the older sister, uses emotional abuse and gaslighting to manipulate Fern into doubting her own sanity and reason, making Fern feel indebted to her. Fern, on the other hand, trusts Rose blindly and has a hard time setting healthy boundaries with her.
Discuss. Also, what do you think are some of the other themes (apart from blurred boundaries, of course) that the novel clearly explores?
- The novel highlights the disconnect between the depictions of sisterhood in popular media and the reality of sibling relationships. Fern notes that in movies and TV shows, sisters often talk about boys and confide in each other, but her relationship with Rose is far more complex and nuanced. Rose cannot be playful with Fern because she sees her as a child and a possession.
- The ending of the book is where Rose writes a journal in jail stating that she will get Fern arrested and raise her baby as her own. That was something that took me aback and made me realize that The Good Sister is definitely getting a sequel.
What are some of the elements that you want to be incorporated in this sequel? Also, do you want the introduction of some unique and new characters – something that can bring in the twist in the tale while providing Rose’s innocence?
If you liked this set of questions, here are some other options for you to explore.
The Neighbor’s Secret: In the idyllic Cottonwood Estates, where families thrive with peace, the tight-knit book club harbors secrets not known to many. As mysterious acts of violence escalate, these women face a choice: How far will they go to safeguard their children?
The Nightingale: In war-torn France, two sisters face extraordinary challenges during the Nazi occupation. Vianne must make impossible choices to protect her family, while Isabelle joins the Resistance, risking everything for freedom and love.
Frankenstein: Enter the dark and haunting world of Mary Shelley’s masterpiece, ‘Frankenstein.’ In this timeless tale, a mad scientist defies the laws of nature, creating a monstrous being that seeks revenge and challenges our very notions of humanity. Prepare for a chilling journey into the depths of science and the human psyche.
A Thousand Splendid Suns: An emotionally gripping tale that intertwines the lives of two Afghan women, Mariam and Laila, as they navigate love, resilience, and the relentless pursuit of hope amidst the turmoil of war-torn Kabul. Prepare to be swept away by this beautifully heartbreaking once-in-a-lifetime story.