Book Club Questions

  1. Who was your favorite character and why? Who was your least favorite?
  2. Were Elizabeth’s baptism and journey to Utah rooted in belief, or in the desire to secure a better life for her daughter?
  3. What similarities did the 19th-century European immigrants, making the journey to Utah, have in common with today’s refugees?
  4. In 1859 the writer Charles Dickens wrote about the aptitude for organization, steadiness of purpose, and orderliness of the Latter-day Saints (Mormons) aboard an immigrant ship. What do you think accounted for their social cohesion?
  5. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church) focuses on the courage and sacrifice of the handcart pioneers, while some historians focus on the organizational mismanagement of the handcart plan, and the human cost. The plan enabled thousands of European converts to escape lives of poverty and degradation. Do you think the Mormon handcart experiment was a success?
  6. Would you consider Heber’s consummation of his plural marriage to be a form of sexual assault, or love? What were his motivations for marriage to Josephine? Did he love her?
  7. Joseph Smith, the first prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, initiated polygamy and married a fourteen-year-old girl, as well as women who were already married to living husbands. Do you think an act can be moral in one social or historical context and immoral in another?
  8. Do you think plural marriage would be more difficult for the first wife, or the second? What circumstances would make it more, or less, so?
  9. Are there differences between Mormon pioneer polygamy and contemporary polygamy among fundamentalists?
  10. Polygamy is illegal in every state in the U.S. but it is quietly tolerated due to the difficulty of prosecution. Instead, officials target sexual assault and rape involving underage girls living in polygamous communities. Should polygamy be legal? What should be the age of consent for marriage?
  11. The book began as a story about an innocent young girl coming of age. Did the violence she encountered surprise you? What were her coping strategies?
  12. What were the motivations of those who participated in the Mountain Meadows Massacre? Do you think the book is sympathetic to or judgmental of 19th-century Latter-day Saints in southern Utah?
  13. The novel, set more than 150 years ago, touches on themes of religious violence. How are these themes still relevant? Do you see religious extremism, divisive rhetoric, and xenophobia at work in contemporary religions?
  14. Religious history is often “sanitized.” This has become more difficult in the age of the Internet. Is it more advantageous for religious leaders and historians to be upfront about troublesome events in their past, or attempt to suppress information?
  15. Josephine matured over the course of the story. She began as a merchant’s daughter whose greatest burden seemed to be the strictures of Victorian etiquette. How did her experience change her?
  16. If one is unhappy with the tenets or practices of one’s religion, is it better to stay and work for change from within, as Brother Hans Larsen planned to do, or leave, as some pioneer dissidents did?
  17. For centuries, philosophers have debated this question: How can God allow the suffering of innocent people? In the last scene of the book, Josephine recounts this dilemma. Is there a way she might eventually reconcile this question?
  18. Did Josephine experience both faith and doubt at the same time? In the final scene, do you think Josephine found peace from religious confusion?
  19. What, if any, is the difference between religion and spirituality? Did Josephine experience both? What role did nature play?
  20. What would you like to see happen to Josephine? Where would you like to see her in five years?