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Book Club Questions for Mercury by Amy Jo Burns with Discussion Guide (PDF)

mercury book club questions

Book club questions for Mercury by Amy Jo Burns explore the themes of loyalty, family bonds, and the resilience needed to overcome challenges.

This is a wonderfully written story driven by striking characters and family drama. I especially loved the last chapters of the book. This family will stay with me for a long time.

Mercury by Amy Jo Burns

Readers may reflect on the complexities of relationships, the impact of secrets on a family, and the characters’ journeys in navigating the blue-collar town of Mercury, Pennsylvania, during the pivotal year of 1990.

About the Author | Book Club Questions | Discussion Guide

Additional Recommendations

About the Story

Mercury takes place in 1990 in the town of Mercury, Pennsylvania. The story revolves around Marley West, a seventeen-year-old girl looking for a place to belong. She becomes entwined with the Joseph brothers, a roofing family in the town. Marley goes on to become a wife, The One Who Got Away, and an adopted mother to the brothers.

As the Joseph family faces challenges, including the decline of their roofing business and their father’s inflated ego, Marley steps in to support and guide them. Years later, a mysterious discovery in the church attic brings back old wounds, putting the family’s survival at risk. The Joseph brothers, with Marley as their guiding light, must decide whether they can salvage the family they’ve always known or if they can build something stronger in its place.

About the Author


Amy Jo Burns is the author of the memoir Cinderland and the novel Shiner, which was a Barnes & Noble Discover Pick, NPR Best Book of the year, a Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club selection, and “told in language as incandescent as smoldering coal,” according to The NewYorkTimes.

Her writing has appeared in The Paris Review Daily, Tin House, Elle, Good Housekeeping, Ploughshares, Electric Literature, Literary Hub, and the anthology Not That Bad.

Amy’s latest novel, Mercury, has been released in January 2024. You can find her on Instagram at @burnsamyjo.

Book Club Questions for Mercury

  1. The Joseph family in this novel is portrayed as complicated and dysfunctional. How do the family dynamics influence the characters’ choices and actions throughout the story? Do you find any aspects of their family relatable?
  2. Marley West undergoes significant growth and transformation throughout the novel. How does Marley’s character evolve from the beginning to the end of the story? In what ways does her presence impact the Joseph family?
  3. The narrative shifts between the past and present, as well as different character perspectives. How did this narrative structure influence your reading experience and your perceptions of each character?
  4. Which character did you find most relatable or connected to? Were there characters you wished to learn more about?
  5. How did your opinions about each member of the Joseph family evolve throughout the course of the novel?
  6. In what ways are Elise and Marley similar? Conversely, how do they differ?
  7. How does the small town of Mercury, Pennsylvania, contribute to the atmosphere and events in the novel? How does the setting influence the characters’ relationships and opportunities?
  8. How do the characters’ loyalty to each other shape the narrative? How does Marley’s search for belonging drive the story forward?
  9. Secrets play a crucial role in the plot, particularly with the discovery in the church attic. How do these secrets affect the characters individually and as a family? Are there parallels between the secrets held by different characters?
  10. Analyze the relationships between Marley and each of the Joseph brothers. How does her dynamic differ with Baylor, Waylon, and Shay? How do these relationships contribute to the overall family dynamic?
  11. Discuss the symbolism and significance of the church in the context of the novel. How does it contribute to the themes explored?
  12. Reflect on the changes that Marley’s arrival brings to the Joseph family. How does her presence alter the existing family dynamics, and in what ways does she become integral to their lives?
  13. The author often explores themes of strong women, forgiveness, and loyalty. Discuss how each character in the novel relates to these themes and the role they play in their individual character development.Mick plans to take the truth about Elise’s death to his grave. Do you believe Mick played a role in Elise’s death, and how does this uncertainty affect the story?
  14. The author reveals details about Elise and Mick’s early years in marriage at the end of the novel. Why do you think the author included this chapter? Did it alter your perceptions of Elise and Mick?
  15. What do you envision happening to the Joseph family after the events in the book conclude?
  16. Both Marley and Elise, the Joseph brothers’ mother, experience motherhood in different ways. How is motherhood portrayed in the novel, and what sacrifices do the characters make for their families?
  17. What did you think about the emotional impact of the story? Share moments or characters that resonated with you emotionally. How did the author create such a powerful connection between the reader and the characters?
  18. Can you identify with any of the family dynamics portrayed in the book? How does your family handle secrets, and what impact has this had on your relationships?
  19. Throughout the story, each Joseph son and Marley play distinct roles in keeping the family together. By the end of the book, do you think these roles persist, or have they undergone changes?
  20. How would you personally rate and describe your experience with “Mercury”? What elements stood out to you the most, and would you recommend it to others?

Additional Recommendations

The Heiress by Rachel Hawkins

When Ruby McTavish Callahan Woodward Miller Kenmore dies, she’s not only North Carolina’s richest woman, she’s also its most notorious. The victim of a famous kidnapping as a child and a widow four times over, Ruby ruled the tiny town of Tavistock from Ashby House, her family’s estate high in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

But in the aftermath of her death, her adopted son, Camden, wants little to do with the house or the money―and even less to do with the surviving McTavishes. Instead, he rejects his inheritance, settling into a normal life as an English teacher in Colorado and marrying Jules, a woman just as eager to escape her own messy past.

Ten years later, his uncle’s death pulls Cam and Jules back into the family fold at Ashby House. Its views are just as stunning as ever, its rooms just as elegant, but the legacy of Ruby is inescapable.

And as Ashby House tightens its grip on Jules and Camden, questions about the infamous heiress come to light. Was there any truth to the persistent rumors following her disappearance as a girl? What really happened to those four husbands, who all died under mysterious circumstances? And why did she adopt Cam in the first place? Soon, Jules and Cam realize that an inheritance can entail far more than what’s written in a will––and that the bonds of family stretch far beyond the grave.

For my book club questions for this book, click here!

The Storm We Made by Vanessa Chan

In the Long Island oceanfront community of Mattauk, three different women discover that midlife changes bring a whole new type of empowerment…

After Nessa James’s husband dies and her twin daughters leave for college, she’s left all alone in a trim white house not far from the ocean. In the quiet of her late forties, the former nurse begins to hear voices. It doesn’t take long for Nessa to realize that the voices calling out to her belong to the dead—a gift she’s inherited from her grandmother, which comes with special responsibilities.

On the cusp of 50, suave advertising director Harriett Osborne has just witnessed the implosion of her lucrative career and her marriage. She hasn’t left her house in months, and from the outside, it appears as if she and her garden have both gone to seed. But Harriett’s life is far from over—in fact, she’s undergone a stunning and very welcome metamorphosis.

Ambitious former executive Jo Levison has spent thirty long years at war with her body. The free-floating rage and hot flashes that arrive with the beginning of menopause feel like the very last straw—until she realizes she has the ability to channel them, and finally comes into her power.

Guided by voices only Nessa can hear, the trio of women discover a teenage girl whose body was abandoned beside a remote beach. The police have written the victim off as a drug-addicted sex worker, but the women refuse to buy into the official narrative. Their investigation into the girl’s murder leads to more bodies, and to the town’s most exclusive and isolated enclave, a world of stupendous wealth where the rules don’t apply. With their newfound powers, Jo, Nessa, and Harriett will take matters into their own hands…

For my book club questions for this book, click here!

The Berry Pickers by Amanda Peters

A roofing family’s bonds of loyalty are tested when they uncover a long-hidden secret at the heart of their blue-collar town—from Amy Jo Burns, author of the critically acclaimed novel Shiner.

It’s 1990 and seventeen-year-old Marley West is blazing into the river valley town of Mercury, Pennsylvania. A perpetual loner, she seeks a place at someone’s table and a family of her own. The first thing she sees when she arrives in town is three men standing on a rooftop. Their silhouettes blot out the sun.

The Joseph brothers become Marley’s whole world before she can blink. Soon, she is young wife to one, The One Who Got Away to another, and adopted mother to them all. As their own mother fades away and their roofing business crumbles under the weight of their unwieldy father’s inflated ego, Marley steps in to shepherd these unruly men. Years later, an eerie discovery in the church attic causes old wounds to resurface and suddenly the family’s survival hangs in the balance. With Marley as their light, the Joseph brothers must decide whether they can save the family they’ve always known—or whether together they can build something stronger in its place.

For my book club questions for this book, click here!

Discussion Guide for Mercury by Amy Jo Burns (PDF)

Happy reading! ❤️