Ashley Bell Reading Group Questions

Ashley Bell Cover

  1. Bibi Blair’s parents, Nancy and Murphy, believe in Fate. They don’t worry much about what waits around the corner, but shrug and say, “What will be will be.” Bibi, however, believes that she makes her own life with free will. She says, “Screw Fate.” How does this affect her relationship with her folks? Do you think Bibi understands her parents better than they understand her — or is it the other way around? Whose worldview do you tend to side with? Did that change at all as the events of the novel unfolded?
  2. Bibi does not shy from the sharp edges of life. She leans into them, testing herself and her resolve. What other qualities of this young woman do you find admirable as she reacts in the early chapters to the terrible prognosis she receives from the doctor? Is her approach to life intrinsic to her nature, or can you identify outside events and deliberate choices that shaped her as such? Are there people in your own life who seem to be eternal optimists — who confront life with an unwavering bravado — and if so, what factors have contributed to that personality type?
  3. Bibi is a hard-driving surfer who slashes the waves with the best of them. Do you think taking on monster waves and riding them to exhaustion has in some way prepared her for the challenges she faces in this story? How?
  4. Bibi’s fiance, Paxton, is a Navy SEAL, a highly trained and very smart warrior. When such a character appears in a story like this, it often works out that he soon turns up at the side of the female lead, providing the muscle she needs. That’s not how this story develops. Were you surprised that Paxton’s role turns out to be quite different? And if he had shown up at Bibi’s side during her — most unusual — adventure, what do you think she might have said to him if he said, “Everything’s okay now, kid, I’m here”? Or would the nature of their relationship preclude his making such a statement?
  5. Bibi’s best friend, Pogo, loves her more than life itself, and she loves him. He isn’t her brother, but their relationship is that of devoted brother and sister. In the real world, as opposed to the world of a novel, can two very attractive young people have such a relationship that never becomes physically intimate? If you think so, what qualities do Bibi and Pogo have that ensures they will not take that fateful step? What qualities does Paxton possess that enable him to understand and accept Pogo and Bibi’s unconditional love? What do you make of the relationships among men and women in this and other Dean Koontz novels?
  6. For Bibi, “Superman and Supergirl had no appeal…everything was too easy for them and other invulnerable superheroes, without genuine danger.” What is your definition of a hero, and does it agree with Bibi’s? Part of Bibi’s story unfurls in conjunction with Paxton’s blackout mission. Trace their different, but parallel, hero’s journeys. How are the skills and tenets of a Navy SEAL similar to those of a Valiant girl? Of war, Paxton says, it “either dulls the mind to despair or sharpens it toward intuitive truths.” What truths does Bibi uncover as she fights her own battle? What weapons does she need in her arsenal to confront and overcome them?
  7. The power of imagination is a key theme of the novel. In Chapter One, it is said of ten-year-old Bibi that “Sometimes she was able to imagine her future so clearly that it almost seemed as if she had already lived it and was now remembering. To achieve your goals, imagination was almost as important as hard work. You couldn’t win the prize if you couldn’t imagine what it was and where it might be found.” Do you agree with that? Not all of us have an imagination as vivid as Bibi’s, but does it help us to envision the best way to achieve a goal before going after it?
  8. Another theme deals with the power of books. A series of Valiant Girl novels has a profound impact on the young Bibi. Dieticians tell us that we are what we eat. Is it even more true that we are what we read? And what TV and movies we watch? Might Bibi have been a different girl if she’d never read a series with the values of the Valiant Girl books? Is it possible that she would not have been properly equipped to save Ashley Bell if she’d not read those books, that she might have failed? Which other characters within the novel have been shaped according to their literary tastes? How has your own reading — and other media consumption — influenced your character?
  9. The book also deals, in many ways, with the theme of deception and self-deception. In Chapter One, it is said that Bibi is a magpie, and like a magpie hides things from the world and from herself. Do you think it is common for people to “hide” things from themselves, to deny unpleasant truths, minimize unsettling memories? In Bibi’s case, her grandfather, with his special knowledge, helped her bury traumatic memories, which during the course of the story it is essential that she recover. Did her grandfather do the right thing by giving her years in which to develop the maturity to cope with the truth of herself? Or was it damaging to her? Bibi admits that “if she had deceived herself in this fashion, perhaps she was not, after all, the bring-it-on-I-can-take-anything girl that she had always believed she was.” Do you think this is a harsh self-assessment, or did your opinion of Bibi change after learning that she’d used such a trick to hide from reality? If you had the power to bury events that are either too frightening or too sad to bear, would you? How might that affect the person you are today?
  10. Discuss the symbolism and significance of the panther and gazelle leaping in opposite directions as it relates to the narrative as a whole. How is the depiction of opposite, though mirror, images reflected in the characters themselves?
  11. Bibi is a writer of exceptional talent. In Chapter 129, she makes a decision about her future, about how she will and will not use her creative talent. Do you think it is the correct decision? Do you think she will be able to abide by it?
  12. In this novel, there are many stories told within a larger story; stories that are so vivid and believable, the line between story and reality blurs. Have you ever had that feeling of life imitating art? Or has a story ever become almost real to you, coloring the way you view the world?
  13. Bibi reflects at one point that “there is a “sadness that shadows every writer’s heart. For all the effort of creation, for all the hours at the keyboard and the intellectual exercise and the emotion expended, all of a writer’s creations are but a ghost of the Truth, as ephemeral as are all the works of humanity in this world within time.” Certain authors may experience postpartum loss at leaving a beloved character in his proper world, but is a reader’s experience just as profound? Who are the great characters you’ve connected with and how did the act of finishing their story affect you? Which of them would you be happy to see living in this world and which might be an utter disappointment, or even dangerous if transported out of their natural environment? How did you feel about the treatment of these issues in Ashley Bell? Which of the characters in the novel would you most like to meet?
  14. Many writers (including Bibi!) have said that their characters take on their own free will; that the author merely acts as the vehicle through which the muse speaks. Considering the final chapter, do you think it is possible for a novelist’s work to have an effect upon the world that she or he does not intend? Is it therefore the responsibility of novelists to maintain a healthy remove from their work and to think carefully about the emotions and values passed on to readers?

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