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Book club questions for The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult evaluates all the key storylines and character development in this unique novel. There will be spoilers so for more context about the story, check out my spoiler-free review first.
Okay, so you have read the book, right? If you haven’t and are just bookmarking this page for when your book club meets…don’t read the following section into you’ve read the book! Spoilers about to go down!
Whew, that ending. Agh. Cliffhangers. Sometimes they don’t bother me and other times, they drive me crazy. It seems many people are annoyed that Jodi decided to leave it open-ended about whether Dawn picks an adventure life with Wyatt or continues her comfortable existence with Brian. She said that she had a different ending in mind but changed it. So she knows which life Dawn chooses. Why she didn’t she tell us? Bleh. It didn’t ruin the book for me but I would have liked a more complete ending. I think Dawn is more in love with Wyatt but I do think she has concerns about not being able to be away from her daughter for a long time. However, her daughter is not a child and it isn’t long until college (so to speak) so I still lean a bit toward Wyatt over Brian. Let me know who you think she picked!
Everything changes in a single moment for Dawn Edelstein. She’s on a plane when the flight attendant makes an announcement: Prepare for a crash landing. She braces herself as thoughts flash through her mind. The shocking thing is, the thoughts are not of her husband but of a man she last saw fifteen years ago: Wyatt Armstrong.
Dawn, miraculously, survives the crash, but so do all the doubts that have suddenly been raised. She has led a good life. Back in Boston, there is her husband, Brian, their beloved daughter, and her work as a death doula, in which she helps ease the transition between life and death for her clients.
But somewhere in Egypt is Wyatt Armstrong, who works as an archaeologist unearthing ancient burial sites, a career Dawn once studied for but was forced to abandon when life suddenly intervened. And now, when it seems that fate is offering her second chances, she is not as sure of the choice she once made.
After the crash landing, the airline ensures that the survivors are seen by a doctor, then offers transportation to wherever they want to go. The obvious destination is to fly home, but she could take another path: return to the archaeological site she left years before, reconnect with Wyatt and their unresolved history, and maybe even complete her research on The Book of Two Ways—the first known map of the afterlife.
As the story unfolds, Dawn’s two possible futures unspool side by side, as do the secrets and doubts long buried with them. Dawn must confront the questions she’s never truly asked: What does a life well lived look like? When we leave this earth, what do we leave behind? Do we make choices . . . or do our choices make us? And who would you be if you hadn’t turned out to be the person you are right now?
Book Club Questions for The Book of Two Ways
- Why do you think Jodi used the title The Book of Two Ways? In what ways does the title have multiple meanings?
- So we’re lead to believe for a majority of the book that Dawn is almost in a multiverse situation—one where she chooses to go back home to her family and the other, where she goes to Egypt to reconnect with her work and Wyatt. First, which storyline were you most engaged with and why?
- Have you ever made a pivotal choice in your life and wondered what if you had made a different choice?
- If you somehow had a choice like Dawn to be able to reconnect with your past, in the present, would you do so?
- Why do you think Dawn couldn’t let go of Egypt and Wyatt?
- The author provides a ton of detail about Egyptology—did you like how in-depth she went or was it a bit much for you? And on that note, would you ever want to go to Egypt?
- Did you know about death doulas prior to reading the story?
- A central theme of the story is death—from Dawn’s research in Egyptian history to her work as a death doula. Why do you think Dawn was drawn to this area?
- Let’s talk about Dawn’s relationship with Brian. Was she ever in love with him or was he more there to provide comfort and stability?
- Were you surprised at the reveal that Wyatt is actually the father of her daughter Meret?
- And this is where we find out there aren’t multiverses happening but the story is told out of order—after the reveal of Meret’s paternity, Dawn eventually ends up in Egypt, which is the Egypt storyline we’ve been following the entire time. Did this reveal catch you off guard or could you tell where the story was going all along?
- Ending time! So let’s first talk about our thoughts on why the author left the ending a cliffhanger.
- Now, who and which life, do you think Dawn chose in the end and why? Is she better suited for Wyatt or Brian?
Hope you enjoyed book club questions for The Book of Two Ways! Here are some more recommendations along with links to book club questions.
Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
Another book that focuses on the what if concept is Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld. This one, follows Hillary Rodham’s life if she never married Bill Clinton.
In 1971, Hillary Rodham is a young woman full of promise: Life magazine has covered her Wellesley commencement speech, she’s attending Yale Law School, and she’s on the forefront of student activism and the women’s rights movement. And then she meets Bill Clinton. A handsome, charismatic southerner and fellow law student, Bill is already planning his political career. In each other, the two find a profound intellectual, emotional, and physical connection that neither has previously experienced.
In the real world, Hillary followed Bill back to Arkansas, and he proposed several times; although she said no more than once, as we all know, she eventually accepted and became Hillary Clinton.
But in Curtis Sittenfeld’s powerfully imagined tour-de-force of fiction, Hillary takes a different road. Feeling doubt about the prospective marriage, she endures their devastating breakup and leaves Arkansas. Over the next four decades, she blazes her own trail—one that unfolds in public as well as in private, that involves crossing paths again (and again) with Bill Clinton, that raises questions about the tradeoffs all of us must make in building a life.
Brilliantly weaving a riveting fictional tale into actual historical events, Curtis Sittenfeld delivers an uncannily astute and witty story for our times. In exploring the loneliness, moral ambivalence, and iron determination that characterize the quest for political power, as well as both the exhilaration and painful compromises demanded of female ambition in a world still run mostly by men, Rodham is a singular and unforgettable novel.
You can order the book on Amazon here. Check out my book club questions here.
In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
In Five Years by Rebecca Serle is another story that evaluates choice and fate.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Dannie Kohan lives her life by the numbers.
She is nothing like her lifelong best friend—the wild, whimsical, believes-in-fate Bella. Her meticulous planning seems to have paid off after she nails the most important job interview of her career and accepts her boyfriend’s marriage proposal in one fell swoop, falling asleep completely content.
But when she awakens, she’s suddenly in a different apartment, with a different ring on her finger, and beside a very different man. Dannie spends one hour exactly five years in the future before she wakes again in her own home on the brink of midnight—but it is one hour she cannot shake. In Five Years is an unforgettable love story, but it is not the one you’re expecting.
You can order the book on Amazon here. Check out my book club questions here.
Sunday 18th of July 2021
Just Maybe there is another book for the author to write at some later stage to follow through and conclude??. Who knows??
Monday 19th of July 2021
Oh I hope so!! I wonder if they make a TV or movie version — if they will have a proper ending?
Friday 18th of June 2021
thank you for your great review. This book was such an unexpected find for me. So far, I have not read any of Picoult`s novels. It sat on my “to read” shelf for ever until I picked it up yesterday on a whim and I just could not put it down- I read until 4 in the morning when the birds outside my window where starting to chirp again and the ending left me a bit perplexed and then a bit angry with the author.
However, this morning when I woke up, I had changed my opinion and I think it is a stroke of brilliance to leave it to the reader to decide. First, I looooove books that keep you thinking about plots and arcs well after you have read the last page. Second, books belong to their readers. A good book might entertain you for a couple of hours, serve as a welcome distraction or send you to places that you have never known and been. But a brilliant book, and this is one, teaches you something about life and/ or about yourself.
In the end to me the question is not whom Dawn chooses but who you, the reader, would choose? What do you want from life? Do you want a love that consumes you? Do you want someone that shares your passion? Or do you want someone who is pragmatic, loyal and caring? The answer to this will likely not only depend on your personality but also on where you are at in life. I can see myself revisiting this book ever couple of years and maybe even changing my answer.
Based on my personal perspective and the way I perceive Dawn as a character, I would like to believe that in the end it is not so much about which man she chooses to be with rather than about whether she chooses herself. We get to know her as someone who has consistently prioritized other people`s needs and I believe that has stifled a bit of what is at the core of her being. She chooses to leave her dream job next to a man whom she is immensely attracted to right after she has a personal and a professional breakthrough in order to be by her dying mother`s side. After her mother dies, she severs contact with what I think is her soulmate because deep down she knows that she would choose Wyatt any day over her family. Pretending like Wyatt never even existed is the only way for her to do what she believes is right and her duty - be there for her brother and help him through these emotionally and financially challenging times. Walking away from Wyatt is hard the first time already when she goes to be with her mother, and I believe it would be impossible to do it a second time. Not only is she leaving behind her soulmate, but she is leaving behind what turns out to be the discovery of the century in the field she is passionate about. This only works because she compartmentalizes and pretends like Wyatt does not even exist. This is how fiercely loyal and selfless she is. When she seeks out solace and company in the arms of a man who is basically a stranger to her, she is in a very vulnerable position. Her dreams and aspirations are shattered, she is grieving for a mother whom she clearly loved very much and she is very lonely in a role as caregiver and head of the household. This is a role for which she is not prepared at all and which she takes on because she feels duty bound. That must have been utterly devastating. And in this moment of darkness there is Brian, a caring, loyal, wonderful man who extends a hand to her. Of course, she is bound to love him for who he is as person, he is very lovable, and she needs him to fill the void in her life. When she finally finds out she is pregnant she truly believes that the child is Brian`s (who by the way is probably infertile since they do not succeed in conceiving another child). That is what she must believe in order to stay sane. This child fixes her in a way, it is like the last piece of jigsaw puzzle that makes the picture complete. Meret turns what is a very fragile and messed up situation into something which has an order. They become a family, the child stabilizes the relationship she started on a whim and out of loneliness. The mere thought that she could be an omnipresent eternal reminder of all that she lost when she left Egypt is so devastating that her mind protects her from even considering this option. She truly does not know because she would not be able to cope with this living, breathing reminder of her passion for Wyatt. Meret is her reassurance that she will never be alone. It makes Brian and her a team and they are a good one when it comes to supporting each other and being loving parents. They love and cherish each other. Yet, there is something missing. She NEEDS Brian and he makes her a better mother and sister, a good wife but what she really WANTS is Wyatt with whom she can be truly herself and unashamedly pursue her passion. He loves her for who she is and not for who she is when she is with him. Wyatt accepts her and understands her in a way that gentle Brian never could. That is why, in the end, when all the people she loves and cares for no longer depend on her, she finally gets to choose what is best for her. So se chooses what she has wanted all along: Wyatt, her soulmate. I would like to believe that they return to Egypt together and that Dawn finishes her passion project, the dissertation on the iconography of the Book of two Ways and that Dawn and Wyatt go on to be an unstoppable duo in the field of Egyptology who maximized each other`s brilliance by bouncing ideas off each other. Finally Dawn can be who she was always meant to be. We also have to keep in mind that Meret is 14 now, wise beyond her age and has a loving father with whom she shares a strong bond to support her until she goes to college once she turns 18. Maybe Brian even makes things work with Gita who is likely to care more about his work than Dawn ever did (not out of spite, just because the interest of lay people has limits). Do you feel like that makes sense or would she be unable to leave Meret in the US while working in Egypt?
Saturday 26th of June 2021
Hi there, thank you for such a thoughtful and insightful response! I totally feel the same way—frustration with how it ended but then also realizing it's interesting and gives the reader the freedom to choose. I also think she chose Wyatt in the end, especially since Meret is 14. If Meret was younger, I'm not sure she would have made that choice. I do wonder if the author will ever tell us what she thinks!