This gripping and compassionate family drama set between neighbours in suburban New York is perfect for book clubs.
When Kate Gleeson and Peter Stanhope are in eighth grade (13-14), a violent event divides their families. The children are forbidden from having any further contact, but Kate and Peter find a way back to each other. Ask Again, Yes reveals how echoes from the past test relationships and how the events of childhood look different when reexamined from the distance of adulthood.
Discussion points and questions:
- Ask Again, Yes grapples with the idea of learning from the past. What lessons do Kate and Peter learn from their parents’ experiences? What mistakes do they repeat?
- Do Francis Gleeson and Anne Stanhope – both Irish immigrants – experience things differently from their American-born spouses? Do you think this contributes to tensions within the couples, and between the two families?
- Ask Again, Yes is set over the course of four decades. How do attitudes toward mental health and addiction change over that time? How do these changes affect the characters? For example, how do Brian and George Stanhope differ in their attitudes toward drinking?
- Francis marvels at how many pieces had to come together for a woman like Lena to exist and for him to have met her. What role do you think fate plays in this novel? Do the characters have free will to make their own choices? Why or why not?
- When Kate learns about the episode at Food King, she momentarily thinks that it couldn’t have been as dramatic as Peter was making it out to be. Then she realizes that it was, in fact, the opposite, ‘that it was such a big deal that the adults had been careful not to talk about it in front of the kids’. What role does keeping secrets – from children, parents, partners – play throughout the novel? Do you think certain events could have been avoided if the characters had been more open with each other?
- The idea of inherited traits and characteristics appears frequently in the novel. Trauma is another thing that is passed down from generation to generation. Do Kate and Peter address the legacy of trauma they’ve inherited from their parents?
- Redemption is an important theme throughout Ask Again, Yes. Discuss the many ways in which the characters forgive each other.
- The novel is divided into four parts. Discuss the significance of each of the part titles—‘Gillam,’ ‘Queens,’ ‘Two by Two,’ and ‘Muster.’ Why do you think Mary Beth Keane chose to structure the story this way?
- At the end of the book, Francis thinks, ‘It was always the same. People didn’t change’. Do you think he really believes this?
- What does the book’s title, Ask Again, Yes, mean to you?
- This novel is specific to these two families, yet it also feels universal in its themes. Do you see echoes of your family’s history in the Gleesons or the Stanhopes?