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Book Club Questions and Discussion Guide for The Waters by Bonnie Jo Campbell

the waters book club questions

Book club questions for The Waters by Bonnie Jo Campbell explore the themes of familial complexity, female resilience, the impact of environmental challenges, and the interplay between mysticism and reality in a rural setting.

This is an energizing story about women and the men who surround them. Set in a rural area, the trials the ladies endure are different than those in urban areas. The novel mixes in some magical realism and several love stories all at once.

The Waters by Bonnie Jo Campbell

Discussions may also explore societal tension, gender dynamics, and the delicate balance between nature and human existence,

About the Author | Book Club Questions | Discussion Guide

Additional Recommendations

About the Story

The Waters is set in the Great Massasauga Swamp, and focuses on the life of herbalist Herself Zook and her estranged daughters. The story explores the challenges faced by exceptional women in the rural town of Whiteheart, Michigan, as family secrets, passionate love, and societal tensions unfold against the backdrop of a lush landscape.

With a touch of magical realism, the narrative celebrates the resilience of nature and offers an antidote to the darker aspects of masculinity in a small town.

About the Author

bonnie jo campbell author

Bonnie Jo Campbell is a critically acclaimed author, hailing from a small Michigan farm, and she love to explore the resilience of rural life in her novels.

She achieved National Bestseller status with Once Upon a River and received praise for her short fiction collections, notably American Salvage, a National Book Award Finalist.

Bonnie master’s degree in mathematics and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Western Michigan University, bringing a unique perspective to her storytelling.

Beyond her literary accomplishments, Campbell has led adventure tours, hitchhiked across North America, and scaled the Swiss Alps on her bicycle. Currently residing in Kalamazoo, she feeds donkeys and practices kobudo weapons arts!

Book Club Questions for The Waters

  1. The novel is set in the Great Massasauga Swamp, specifically on an island known as “The Waters.” How does the swamp serve as a metaphor or symbol in the story? How does the author use the setting to create a unique atmosphere for the narrative?
  2. Discuss the complex relationships within the Zook family. How does Herself’s character impact her three daughters, especially Rose Thorne and her daughter, Donkey? How do family secrets and dynamics shape the characters’ lives?
  3. How do the female characters navigate their roles in the community and within their families? In what ways does the author challenge traditional gender roles through the characters of Herself, Rose Thorne, and Donkey?
  4. Explore the symbolic significance of the drawbridge that connects the island to the mainland. How does this drawbridge represent the divide between the Zook family and the rest of the community? How does it function as a metaphor for barriers and connections?
  5. The novel celebrates the resilience of nature in the face of pollution and challenges. Discuss the impact of environmental issues on the characters and the community. How does nature play a role in the characters’ lives, and what does it symbolize throughout the narrative?
  6. Analyze the influence of Herself on her daughters, especially Rose Thorne and Donkey. How does Herself’s unconventional approach to life and healing affect the choices and perspectives of the next generation? How does the absence of a traditional father figure impact the characters?
  7. The townspeople both depend on Herself’s cures and fear her “witchy” ways. Explore the dynamics between the Zook family and the rest of the community. How does the community’s perception of Herself and her family contribute to the tension in the story?
  8. Discuss how the elements of mysticism and magical realism enhance the narrative. How do they contribute to the overall tone of the story, and do they add depth to the characters and their experiences?
  9. What do you think about Donkey’s attachment to animals and the presence of detailed, sometimes disturbing instances of animal cruelty. Discuss the role of animals in the story and how they reflect the characters’ emotions and relationships.
  10. Consider the characters’ arcs throughout the novel. How do they evolve or remain static? Are there pivotal moments that shape their growth, and do you find the resolutions satisfying?
  11. The Waters has been described as reading like a dark fairy tale and a suspense thriller. How does the narrative structure contribute to the overall storytelling? Are there specific elements that enhance the suspense, and how do they impact your engagement with the plot?:
  12. The book has been compared to “Where the Crawdads Sing.” If you’ve read both, discuss the similarities and differences. How does “The Waters” stand out on its own, and what unique themes or storytelling elements does it bring to the table?

Additional Recommendations

The Rachel Incident by Caroline O’Donoghue

A brilliantly funny novel about friends, lovers, Ireland in chaos, and a young woman desperately trying to manage all three.

Rachel is a student working at a bookstore when she meets James, and it’s love at first sight. Effervescent and insistently heterosexual, James soon invites Rachel to be his roommate and the two begin a friendship that changes the course of both their lives forever. Together, they run riot through the streets of Cork city, trying to maintain a bohemian existence while the threat of the financial crash looms before them.

When Rachel falls in love with her married professor, Dr. Fred Byrne, James helps her devise a reading at their local bookstore, with the goal that she might seduce him afterwards. But Fred has other desires. So begins a series of secrets and compromises that intertwine the fates of James, Rachel, Fred, and Fred’s glamorous, well-connected, bourgeois wife. Aching with unrequited love, shot through with delicious, sparkling humor, The Rachel Incident is a triumph.

The Other Mothers by Katherine Faulkner

The author of the “twisty, fast-paced” (The Sunday Times, London) Greenwich Park returns with a fresh and deftly paced thriller about murder, class, and motherhood in an exclusive London community.

When a young nanny is found dead in mysterious circumstances, new mom, Tash, is intrigued. She has been searching for a story to launch her career as a freelance journalist. But she has also been searching for something else—new friends to help her navigate motherhood.

She sees them at her son’s new playgroup. The other mothers. A group of sleek, sophisticated women who live in a neighborhood of tree-lined avenues and stunning houses. The sort of mothers Tash herself would like to be. When the mothers welcome her into their circle, Tash discovers the kind of life she has always dreamt of—their elegant London townhouses a far cry from her cramped basement flat and endless bills. She is quickly swept up into their wealthy world via coffees, cocktails, and playdates.

But when another young woman is found dead, it’s clear there’s much more to the community than meets the eye. The more Tash investigates, the more she’s led uncomfortably close to the other mothers. Are these women really her friends? Or is there another, more dangerous reason why she has been so quickly accepted into their exclusive world? Who, exactly, is investigating who?

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

Powerful, poignant, and utterly gripping, packed with indelible characters and unforgettable twists, Pretty Girls is a masterful novel from one of the finest writers working today.

More than twenty years ago, Claire and Lydia’s teenaged sister Julia vanished without a trace. The two women have not spoken since, and now their lives could not be more different. Claire is the glamorous trophy wife of an Atlanta millionaire. Lydia, a single mother, dates an ex-con and struggles to make ends meet. But neither has recovered from the horror and heartbreak of their shared loss—a devastating wound that’s cruelly ripped open when Claire’s husband is killed.

The disappearance of a teenage girl and the murder of a middle-aged man, almost a quarter-century apart: what could connect them? Forming a wary truce, the surviving sisters look to the past to find the truth, unearthing the secrets that destroyed their family all those years ago . . . and uncovering the possibility of redemption, and revenge, where they least expect it.

Discussion Guide (PDF) for The Waters

Happy reading! ❤️