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Discussion Guide for The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout: Home

Elizabeth Strout

Photo © Dario Lasagni, courtesy castelloinmovimento-castello di fosidnovo.

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Information about the author is available at her website.

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Articles, Interviews, and Reviews

Elizabeth Strout at Politics & Prose Discussing The Burgess Boys

Discussion Questions

(From the publisher)

  1. How did the narrator’s introduction telegraph your expectations about the Burgess family?
  2. Jim and Bob Burgess both left Shirley Falls for New York City. Why there, when they could have gone anywhere? And why did Susan stay behind?
  3. The Burgess siblings have lived with a childhood trauma their whole lives. How has each one compensated for this in his or her personal and professional adult life?
  4. Which Burgess brother, Jim or Bob, did you find more sympathetic? Did you find yourself changing your mind as the story unfolded?
  5. To many readers, Jim may seem more competent than Bob in dealing with Zach’s “prank.” Do you agree? If not, why not?
  6. What did you learn about the Somali population in Shirley Falls? How do you see this as a particularly American story, if you do? And if not, why not? Initially, each of the Burgess siblings reacts uniquely to the Somali population. What do you think causes each individual response, and how do you see it change?
  7. Once Jim takes responsibility for their father’s death, what journey does Bob have to take to first separate from and then return to his brother? What about their relationship changes? What, if anything, remains the same?
  8. What do you think compelled Zach to throw the pig’s head into the mosque?
  9. Both Burgess brothers are lawyers. How do their inner lives reflect their very different professional choices?
  10. How do Helen and Susan’s roles as mothers define them?
  11. How does the Burgess family’s multigenerational history in Shirley Falls add to the siblings’ emotional challenges?

Other Works by Elizabeth Strout

Suggestions for further reading