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The Real Minerva
by Sharratt, Mary
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1. What do you make of the title The Real Minerva? What do you think is the real Minerva? Is there one?

2. Although both Cora and Barbara serve as Penny's mentors, her relationship with her employer is much different than that with her mother. What lessons does each woman teach her?

3. What roles do the prologue and epilogue serve, especially since they are told from Phoebe's point of view?

4. At one point in the novel, Cora and Penny discuss sex. Penny asks about love, and Cora replies, "Love . . . Don't believe any of that romantic gibberish you see in the picture shows. I only found out what real love is when I became a mother" (127). What do you think the novel ultimately says about love both between mothers and daughters and between men and women? Which love creates a stronger bond?

5. Cora says, "Sometimes it isn't easy being a mother . . . One day Phoebe will want to know about her father. And I won't know what to tell her." Barbara and Cora, for different reasons, decide not to tell their daughters about their fathers. Do you agree with this decision? How does it affect the communication between Barbara and Penny?

6. Penny, Cora, and Barbara all embody a source of strength that is unique to each woman. How do they come into conflict with each other? Which do you think are most admirable?

7. Penny, Cora, and Barbara all show courage at pivotal moments in the novel: Penny leaves the Hamilton household, Cora leaves Chicago to run a ranch, and Barbara shows grace and pride when Mr. Hamilton dies. What personal and social battles did these women have to overcome in order to act? Which acts do you think are most admirable?

8. Much of the tension between Penny and her mother results from their class status and the way that it is perceived in Minerva. How is Barbara's relationship with Mr. Hamilton affected by class? Could things have ended differently if they were considered equals? How does Penny's class threaten her desire to continue with her education and become a doctor?

9. Minerva is a small town where gossip is common. Gossip and the social constraints of the era affect Penny, Cora, Irene, and Barbara eventually with fatal consequences. To what extent does it drive them to some of their actions? Does society bear some of the blame for the hurt and violence that results?

10. During one of their visits to the lake, Cora and Penny discuss shape-shifters. At some point in the novel, each of the three women becomes a shape-shifter or reinventor of sorts. When does this occur and why? What impact do Minerva and the time period have on the women and their ability to express themselves?

Additional discussion questions from: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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