Solomon’s Oak Reading Group Guide

Article published on June 29, 2011.

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To make ends meet, Glory Solomon, a young widow, is using the chapel her husband built on their central California farm, under a 200-year-old white oak tree, as a place to hold unusual weddings. Her first is for a bride and groom who want a pirate wedding. Fourteen-year-old Juniper McGuire is the surviving member of a family decimated by a local kidnapping. Juniper arrives on Glory’s doorstep, pierced, tattooed, angry and homeless. When Glory’s husband Dan was alive they took in foster children and raised them. But Juniper may be more than she has the capacity to handle. Joseph Vigil is a former Albuquerque police officer and crime lab photographer who was shot during an assignment. Now disabled and in constant pain, he came to California to photograph the giant trees of the state.

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About the Author

Jo-Ann Mapson is the author of nine previous novels, including Hank & Chloe, Blue Rodeo and the Los Angeles Times bestsellers The Wilder Sisters and Bad Girl Creek. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with her husband and their five dogs.

Discussion

1. Solomon’s Oak opens with the story of Alice Halloran, the woman who lost her child and her life in 1898. How does the legend of Alice’s ghost set the scene for the novel?

2. Solomon’s Oak Wedding Chapel specialises in untraditional ceremonies. Why is Glory open to hosting all kinds of weddings? How does the pirate wedding at the beginning of the novel spark other unconventional relationships for Glory?

3. Glory’s speciality is ‘last-chance dogs’ – training and nurturing abandoned pets. What strategies does Glory use to rehabilitate these last-chance dogs? Which of her dogs shows the most progress over the course of the novel? Why is Glory drawn to last-chance dogs – and to last-chance kids, like Juniper and other foster children?

4. Discuss the first impression that Juniper makes on Glory. What ‘sharp edges’ does Glory sense in Juniper when they first meet? How does Juniper surprise Glory, and how does she disappoint her? What characteristics does Joseph glimpse in Juniper that Glory cannot see?

5. Consider Glory’s complicated relationship with her sister Halle. Why is there so much conflict between the sisters? How does Glory misjudge Halle? How does Halle express her jealousy of Glory? How does Halle make up for so many years of conflict at the end of Solomon’s Oak?

6. The ‘gospel according to Caroline’, says the social worker who brings Glory and Juniper together, is ‘a pair of unhappy people working together towards whatever kind of life there is after so much sorrow’. How do Glory and Juniper eventually build a shared life upon their separate sorrows? Why did Dan secretly make Caroline promise to find Glory the perfect foster child? How is Juniper a perfect match for Glory?

7. Two people live on in Joseph’s memories: his grandmother Penny, and his friend from the police force, Rico. How does Joseph balance these two sets of memories? How does Joseph grieve for Penny and for Rico, and how does he honour their memories?

8. What does Solomon’s Oak mean to Glory, Joseph and Juniper? What artistic, financial and symbolic possibilities does the oak tree offer each of them? How does the tree inspire each person who comes to see it? Why is the oak so difficult to capture artistically, whether on canvas or on film?

9. Discuss the unique bond between Juniper and Joseph. How does Joseph gradually help Juniper find confidence in men? How does education bring this unlikely pair closer? How does Joseph help Juniper see the world differently?

10. How does Glory find comfort in the kitchen? How does cooking bring Glory closer to both Juniper and Joseph?

11. Joseph tells Glory, ‘Sometimes you meet people and you just know you’ve crossed paths for a reason.’ How does fate bring Joseph, Glory, and Juniper together? Why does their crossing of paths feel like destiny to Joseph and Juniper? Why does Glory have trouble believing in fate?

12. Discuss the meaning of family in Solomon’s Oak. Which biological families fall apart in the novel? What non-biological bonds are forged, and how? How do the characters of Solomon’s Oak manage to redefine family, marriage and child-rearing?

13. In an essay on photography, Juniper writes, ‘It’s about accepting that the picture you end up with will never be the picture you were trying to take.’ How does this lesson of photography apply to life?

Further Reading

Winter Garden, by Kristin Hannah
House Rules, by Jodi Picoult
The Laws of Harmony, by Judith Ryan Hendricks
The School of Essential Ingredients, by Erica Bauermeister
Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen
Skylight Confessions, by Alice Hoffman
Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver
A Year of Cats and Dogs, by Margaret Hawkins
All Roads Lead Me Back to You, by Kennedy Foster

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