Inspired by a real case, Half Moon Lake is a captivating historical novel set in America's Deep South about a lost boy and the two mothers who both seek to claim him.
Discussion points and questions:
- How do you think Mary Davenport’s disquieting upbringing – her mother’s miscarriages and sadness, her father’s coldness and Mary’s isolation on the plantation – has affected her role as a mother and wife?
- The Boy Scout movement that John Henry Davenport so admires was founded in England in 1908. Baden-Powell wrote Scouting for Boys for use by existing youth groups, but his book was an immediate success and people set up Boy Scout troops across the world. What, do you think, was it about the Scouts that so appealed to people like John Henry during this era?
- At Sheriff and Mrs Bird’s house in Mobile, John Henry agrees when Mary declares the boy is theirs. Was he right to put his wife’s happiness and health above the truth? Was that, in fact, what he was doing?
- George Davenport was seven years old and Paul was six when their brother went missing in the forest. How would this episode in their lives change the type of people they become? How do you think they understand the choice their parents have made?
- What was it about John Henry’s deception in the library that spurred Esmeralda to take the enormous risk of travelling to the Pennys’ farm at night: her sense of justice, concern for the boy, identification with the mother or some combination of those things? Would you have done the same in her position?
- In real life, the Orphan Trains movement transported an estimated 200–250,000 orphaned and homeless children from crowded and dangerous East Coast cities of the United States to rural parts of the Midwest and South, from 1854 to 1929. While Anne of Green Gables (1908) and Pollyanna (1913) offered up happy endings for rehoused orphans, the true stories weren’t all as cheery. Do you think this was a good approach to housing hundreds of thousands of homeless children? Was Mason right to suggest the Davenports take in a train orphan?
- Mary and Grace Mill meet for the first time in the hallway outside the Opelousas courtroom. Do you imagine that moment might have gone differently had there been no other people there?
- Ned Mill won’t be a child forever. Do you think that as a young man he might seek out his mother, despite what John Henry said about her not wanting him?
- Do you think Grace and Sheriff Sherman might end up together? Would she be able to forgive him for not believing her earlier on?
- At the end of the novel Tom decides he can do better – be better – and leaves the bar with a head full of steam. Where do you think he goes, and why?
- On 6 April 1917, America joined the Great War. How do you think that might affect the characters in Half Moon Lake? Would Tom, Eddie or the sheriff have signed up? How would it have changed the lives of the women, if at all?
- In the true story of Bobby Dunbar, the lost boy’s descendants conducted a DNA test in 2004. It revealed that the boy had been given to the wrong family. How would you react if you discovered your ancestors had effectively kidnapped another woman’s son?