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Remarkably Bright Creatures Discussion Guide: Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

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Information about the author and her work is available at


Get Personal with Shelby Van Pelt

Remarkably Bright Creatures is Shelby's debut novel. Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, she lives in the suburbs of Chicago with her family. When Shelby isn’t feeding her flash-fiction addiction, she’s juggling cats while wrangling children.

Interesting Facts About Octopuses

Did you know?

They have more than one brain.

They are seriously clever.

They can use tools.

They have the ability to recognize people (and pick on them!).

Most male octopuses die within months of mating.

Female octopuses guard their eggs, protecting them from predators, and waft water over them to oxygenate them - for months at a time. Not eating and not moving from her eggs. They literally give their lives for their young ones.

They use cunning disguises and escape techniques.

Octopuses have been known to build underwater cities.

Learn about all of this and more on the Natural History Museum website! Click here:  Octopuses Keep Surprising Us


Discussion Questions

1. What kind of person do you think Marcellus would be if he were human? What qualities do Marcellus and Tova both share that make this remarkable friendship a success?

2. Each of these characters --- animal and human --- need each other in a specific way, even if they don’t realize this at first. What qualities bind these characters to each other? Are they connected by loss, grief or something else?

3. On page 9, Tova empathizes with the sharks in the big aquarium tank, musing that she “understands what it means to never be able to stop moving, lest you find yourself unable to breathe.” Why do you think she feels so compelled to keep busy? What would happen if she simply stopped?

4. In contrast to how Tova keeps busy, Cameron emerges as a character who deals with grief by remaining stagnant, refusing to even try to reach his potential, much to the frustration of those who care about him. Why do you think he sabotages himself? Have you ever had someone like this in your life?

5. Marcellus is extremely smart --- smarter than any human he encounters. Have you had encounters with animals --- octopuses or otherwise --- who demonstrated surprising levels of intelligence, emotional or otherwise? Have you felt “seen” by an animal or felt a relationship with an animal deepen upon earning their trust?

6. REMARKABLY BRIGHT CREATURES takes place in a Pacific Northwest coastal town in the recent past. The watery Puget Sound setting plays a major role in the plot, but how else does the setting inform the novel? How do you think the novel would be different if it were set somewhere like Arizona or Minnesota?

7. Marcellus remarks on page 59 that “fingerprints are like keys, with their specific shape. I remember all keys, too.” From the house key Tova loses to the ring of keys Marcellus finds at the bottom of the sea, the novel is filled with various types of keys. What do you think keys symbolize in this novel?

8. Tova reflects on her experience caring for her husband through his illness and eventual passing, and with no surviving family to do the same for her, she worries about being a burden on her friends as she ages. How do you view the role of community and family in caring for older people? How did Tova’s views on this change throughout the book, and why do you think they did?

9. In the middle of the novel, on page 177, Cameron says to Tova, “conscience does make cowards of us all.” What do you think he means by this statement? Do you agree with this?

10. Tova’s Swedish Dala Horses are some of her most treasured possessions. Why do you think that is? Are there heirlooms in your family that carry a similar significance?

11. This novel explores different characters who are faced with major choices: they can open themselves up to something new and take an unexpected, daring opportunity, or they can continue on as they have been. Have you ever faced a moment in your life where a critical choice could change everything? Did you take the leap or not?

12. Marcellus’ life in captivity is much different than the life of an octopus in the wild --- and eventually, Terry reveals that Marcellus was rescued from the sea after a life-threatening injury. Aquariums play an important role in education and conservation, but some people view keeping animals, especially intelligent ones, in captivity with skepticism. What do you think?

13. In the last few pages of the novel, Tova and Cameron realize how they are truly connected. What do you imagine they are doing a year from the novel’s end?

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