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Book club questions for An American Beauty by Shana Abe explore the themes of wealth, ambition, and societal expectations.
Arabella is not just beautiful; she’s smart, determined, and a planner, aiming to lift her family out of poverty. Meeting Collis P. Huntington seems like her ticket out, but only if she plays her part consistently. This well-researched novel takes readers through a rollercoaster of emotions as Arabella (Belle) works to rescue her family and herself, reinventing when needed.
I loved this book, because Shana Abé’s vivid descriptions make this historical fiction come alive for me, and I’ve discovered an amazing new author on the way. Well done!
Let me know your thoughts about the novel! Feel free to comment below.
An American Beauty by Shana Abe
In this blog post you will find the discussion questions for An American Beauty by Shana Abe.
Book club questions may also prompt discussions on the dynamics of Arabella’s relationship with Collis Huntington, examining the impact of their age difference, the scandal surrounding their affair, and how Arabella navigates the complexities of wealth and social acceptance. Additionally, the themes of love and loyalty are explored as Arabella encounters unexpected romantic challenges.
Have a wonderful book club discussion! ✨
About the Story
An American Beauty is a historical fiction novel set in the Gilded Age, inspired by the true story of Arabella Huntington. In 1867 Richmond, Virginia, Arabella, despite working at a gambling parlor, stands out with her exceptional beauty, charm, and unwavering determination to escape poverty. Railroad baron Collis Huntington is captivated by her, leading to a scandalous affair and eventually a move to New York.
With Collis’s support, Arabella poses as a genteel widow, using her keen business sense to accumulate wealth. Their relationship becomes public after Collis’s wife’s death, but Arabella must navigate the strict social rules of “The Four Hundred.”
As she strives for acceptance, she faces threats of blackmail and an unexpected romance that challenges her ambitions, loyalties, and heart. “An American Beauty” vividly captures the glamour and drama of this historical period, portraying the remarkable journey of a woman who defied societal norms to become a Gilded Age titan.
About the Author
Shana Abé is a distinguished American author known for her compelling romance and fantasy novels since 1998. Born in Texas, she had diverse experiences, including living in Colorado, a brief stint as a foreign exchange student in Mexico, and modeling in Japan at the age of seventeen. Despite earning a degree in drama from a Los Angeles college, Abé found her true calling in writing.
Starting with contemporary romance, Abé later shifted her focus to historical romances. Notably, her debut in this genre, A Rose in Winter, drew inspiration from her own medieval love story. Abé’s storytelling skillfully combines courtly grace with the gritty realism of medieval times.
Some of her notable works include standalone novels like The Promise of Rain or The Second Mrs. Astor, or titles such as “The Smoke Thief” and The Fiercest Joy, which are part of the Drákon and The Sweetest Dark series. Shana Abé continues to be a respected figure in the world of romantic literature.
Book Club Questions for An American Beauty
Disclaimer: the following discussion questions contain spoilers, so proceed with caution if you haven’t finished the book yet.
- How does the author, Shana Abé, bring the Gilded Age to life in “An American Beauty”? What elements of the era, such as opulent buildings and societal norms, stood out to you in the story?
- Arabella faces judgment and rejection from society while striving to join “The Four Hundred.” How does the author depict the challenges she faces in earning her place in society beyond just her wealth? How does Arabella navigate these challenges?
- Discuss the role of Collis P. Huntington in Arabella’s life. How does their relationship evolve from flirtation to a secret affair, and later to a marriage? What impact does this relationship have on Arabella’s journey to wealth and societal acceptance?
- What impact did Catherine, Arabella’s mother, have on her daughter’s destiny and the family’s fate? Would you have taken a different approach, and if so, how?
- Why did Arabella, a seventeen-year-old in dire poverty, become romantically involved with Collis Potter Huntington, a wealthy, married railroad tycoon 32 years her senior? Do you believe she loved him, and how did her feelings for him differ from those for Edward?
- What do you think Elizabeth, Collis’s first wife, felt when Arabella was hired to care for her? Did Elizabeth take actions to punish Arabella for the open affair with her husband?
- Both Collis and Arabella rose from impoverished childhoods to immense wealth. Describe their individual journeys to success. Do you think this shared background created a bond between them?
- Would you categorize Arabella’s rags-to-riches story as a “Cinderella” tale? Identify parallels and divergences between the two stories.
- When Arabella becomes involved with the wealthy, married Collis Potter Huntington, why do you think she pursued a romantic relationship with a man nearly three decades her senior? Do you believe she loved him, and how did her feelings for him differ from those for Edward?
- Would Arabella have achieved the same level of success without meeting Collis? Could she have risen to such wealth on her own? Explain your reasoning.
- “An American Beauty” is inspired by the true story of Arabella Huntington. How does the author balance historical accuracy with storytelling? Were there instances where you felt poetic license was taken, and if so, how did it enhance or detract from the narrative?
- Explore Belle and Lizzie’s confrontation at the picnic in Central Park. How did Belle sacrifice herself for her family, and do you think she ever regretted those sacrifices?
- Arabella assumed various roles throughout her life, from Champagne Girl to philanthropist. Which role do you believe represented her truest self?
- Discuss the significance of the book’s title. How did “beauty” play a role in Arabella’s life?
- Reflect on the social and economic disparities during the Gilded Age and draw parallels to today’s class divide. In what ways are they similar, and how do they differ?
- The book covers a span of 47 years, yet many readers found it to be a page-turner. How does Shana Abé manage to maintain a captivating storyline within this timeframe? Were there moments where you felt the pacing could have been improved?
- How do you view Arabella’s efforts to persuade Collis to move her entire family to New York instead of accepting his initial proposition? Were her actions justified, and why do you think she took such risks to ensure her family wouldn’t be left behind?
- What are your thoughts on Collis’s marriage to his first wife, Elizabeth? Did he love her, and how did her influence over him differ from Arabella’s?
- Arabella claims she is never afraid, but do you believe this is true? What do you think she genuinely feared throughout her life?
- Who do you believe was the true love of Arabella’s life?
- Explore the significance of the book’s title. How did “beauty” influence Arabella’s life and the events that unfolded?
- Analyze Arabella’s life from a feminist standpoint. In what ways did she champion feminist ideals, and where did she become a victim of the societal norms of her time?
- In what ways did Elizabeth retaliate against Arabella for the open affair with her husband? Were her actions justified, and do you think they were fair?
- How does the author depict the societal expectations and constraints placed on women during the Gilded Age through Arabella’s character? In what ways does Arabella challenge these norms, and what consequences does she face?
- Discuss specific moments or themes that resonated with you on an emotional level. How did the author convey Arabella’s determination and resilience throughout her journey?
- Describe Arabella’s relationships with her sisters. How do you think they perceived her, and how did their connections influence their life choices?
- Were you surprised by the progression of Belle and Johnny’s relationship? Did Johnny genuinely come to love her, or was it more of a painful infatuation?
- The novel received praise for its historical accuracy and vivid descriptions of The Gilded Age. How did these elements contribute to your overall reading experience? Did they enhance your understanding of the characters and the time period?
- What are your thoughts on the conclusion of the novel? Did the ending meet your expectations, and were you satisfied with how Arabella’s story unfolded?
- Reflecting on the conclusion, how do you think the ending contributes to the overall message or themes of the book? Did it leave you with lingering thoughts or provoke any particular emotions?
Hope you enjoyed the book club discussion questions and reading guide for An American Beauty by Shana Abe. Here are some more of my book club recommendations with themes related to this book, along with their synopses:
What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman
Ten years ago, Izzy Stone’s mother fatally shot her father while he slept. Devastated by her mother’s apparent insanity, Izzy, now seventeen, refuses to visit her in prison. But her new foster parents, employees at the local museum, have enlisted Izzy’s help in cataloging items at a long-shuttered state asylum. There, amid piles of abandoned belongings, Izzy discovers a stack of unopened letters, a decades-old journal, and a window into her own past.
Young flapper and suffragette Clara Cartwright is caught between her overbearing parents and her desire to be a modern woman. Furious when she rejects an arranged marriage, instead finding love with an Italian Immigrant, Clara’s father sends her to a genteel home for nervous invalids. But when his fortune is lost in the stock market crash of 1929, he can no longer afford her care—and Clara is committed to the public asylum.
Even as Izzy deals with the challenges of yet another new beginning, Clara’s story keeps drawing her into the past. If Clara was never really mentally ill, could something else explain her own mother’s violent act? Piecing together Clara’s fate compels Izzy to re-examine her own choices—with shocking and unexpected results.
The Beach House by Rachel Hanna
She’s 43 years old…
…and starting over from scratch.
How did this happen? She had it all together. A stable marriage of two decades. Two grown daughters. And now she and her husband, empty nesters, were moving to a beach house.
Until he showed up late one night and tore their marriage apart.
A secret life.
A different woman.
Left alone, she has to begin again.
And then her estranged sister and mother get thrown into the mix.
When she buys a house on a small South Carolina island, will she learn what life is really about?
Or will she find out that some relationships can never be mended?
This women’s divorce fiction book will give you all the feels. Grab your tissues and go on a journey with this quirky cast of characters. If you love women’s fiction and clean romance, this series is a great fit for you!
The Secret Life Of Sunflowers by Marta Molnar
When Hollywood auctioneer Emsley Wilson finds her famous grandmother’s diary while cleaning out her New York brownstone, the pages are full of surprises. The first surprise is, the diary isn’t her grandmother’s. It belongs to Johanna Bonger, Vincent van Gogh’s sister-in-law.
Johanna inherited Vincent van Gogh’s paintings. They were all she had, and they weren’t worth anything. She was a 28 year old widow with a baby in the 1800s, without any means of supporting herself, living in Paris where she barely spoke the language. Yet she managed to introduce Vincent’s legacy to the world.
The inspiration couldn’t come at a better time for Emsley. With her business failing, an unexpected love turning up in her life, and family secrets unraveling, can she find answers in the past?
Happy reading! ❤️