The Year The Trees Didn’t Die Book Discussion Questions

  • The book begins with the end. The youngest child has completed college and won a Fulbright. The older two children are present with their children. The author muses that this is a good time. Everyone is together. No one is missing. She hints at hard times, but does not do more than that. Why do you think she chooses to do this and not instead use a beginning-to-end timeline?
  • What is the connection between the yellow dress in Chapter 2, Yellow Dress, that the author wears and her wedding dress? Does the haste with which the author moves suggest something more to the reader than dresses caught in a car door?
  • Do you think that the author’s rural, isolated background and the city background of her husband work well together or cause additional difficulties in their family life?
  • “Birth is physical,” says the author. “Adoption relies on one word, Yes.  She then goes on to discuss the way in which some people suggest to her that she has no idea of how intense the birth process is. She resents this. Why?
  • The author wonders in Chapter 5, Baby Stealer, where children should be. She is adamant that children deserve a family, but she is taken aback at being called a baby stealer and wonders if she is or could be a baby stealer. The question of family formation has many layers. Discuss this chapter and the ramification it holds for the concept of family.
  • When Anita takes food from her father for the first time, the author is overjoyed and says that eating food together is at the core of family life. But she foreshadows a time when she will not take food her daughter has made. What does the foreshadowing suggest to you? Do you agree that eating food together is at the core of family life?
  • Is it fair of the author to have chosen to ignore her adoption-group’s warning that she might have trouble since her daughter and son don’t match? Then, she complicates the situation still more by adopting a child that resembles Minh, but does not resemble Anita. Do you think adopting a different third child would have made a difference? (Chapters 7 and 10, Reasons and Just One More) What is your opinion of the choices Ken and Mary made in creating their family?
  • Chapter 17, Teen Queen, makes it clear that life can alter radically. The child that Ken and Mary knew transforms herself into a sullen, rebellious teen who makes terrifying choices. In reading this chapter and other chapters that deal with Anita’s trauma, the author makes reference to the people who suggest that she is not firm enough with Anita. Do you think that Mary is a weak parent? What would you choose to do as Anita’s parent?
  • Ken and Mary’s marriage becomes unstable. Chapters 29 and 30, Plain Cooking and Savior Man. They have different ways of grieving and coping. Do you think this is normal? Have you ever experienced this and how have you managed it?
  • Minh experiences a strong need to locate his birth mother. Do you think this need contributes to his difficult behavior?  What example seems most striking to you?
  • Why do you think that Minh and Anita find school to be so unsatisfactory? Why does Sung engage with school?
  • The author talks about a public face the children present and a private face that they reveal to their parents and no one else.  We all do this to an extent. Is it more exaggerated with the author’s children?
  • Examine Sung’s anger and his dismay after he is angry. In particular, reread the scene where Sung runs after his mother in Chapter 31, Los Ghets. He is barefoot in winter. Clearly, a strong scene. What is played out in this scene? How do you view Mary’s taking off, Sung’s anger? Ken’s arrival?
  • How would you describe Ken’s role as father and husband?
  • How would you describe the family as a whole? Intact? Unstable? Survivors?
  • It seems that the only guarantee Mary ends up with is the guarantee that there will still be problems.  But she claims that what she has is enough.  What is your reaction to the ending of the book?