Wait Until I'm Dead! Novel

discussion guide

1. This book is uniquely structured in that it contains a story that follows the characters in real time, while it also uses memoir to evoke the past and give meaning to their current actions and emotions. As the reader, how did you react to the structure of the book? Was there enough memoir to inform the reader about DJ's past and still move the story forward?

2. The relationship DJ has with her good friends Kate and Tuck features prominently in this novel. How important do you believe they are to the story? Is the depth of friendship realistic from your perspective? Do you have, or would you want either to be such a friend, or to have friends like them?

3. In her memoir, DJ credits her survival on key figures or group of figures in her life. How important are these often overlooked "others" in helping any of us weather difficult times as children? What role do they play in DJ's ability to overcome her past?

4. Humor is used quite liberally by the author throughout the book. Was it an effective tool? Did it help relieve some of the intensity of the reality of DJ's abuse, or did it distract from its seriousness?

5. Cole held his own secret about DJ's uncle for many years, and this contributes to him being essential to the plot line involving Raymond. What role does Cole play in moving this story to its conclusion? In what ways, if any, was Cole changed by his experience and/or the memoir? Do you agree with his final act?

6. DJ and her brother, a complicated figure, shared a strong bond which impacted her greatly when it was lost. How does the rendition of his saving her from rape in the first chapter Cole reads, set the tone (or voice) of her memoir apart from the tone of the story of the novel?

7. DJ's mother was incapable of truly hearing her when she and her brother reported the attempted rape to her. How do you think DJ's fate would have evolved if her mother had taken action at that time? Would it have shaped DJ as a different adult person in the world? What message does the book convey about listening to children?

8. DJ's sisters kept vital information from her for many years. What was their rational for not telling her and, in hindsight, how might that earlier decision be viewed?

9. Some of DJ's losses also included the deaths of her brother and sister due to illness. How have she and other family members dealt with these losses when one considers them up against the loss of the father and two uncles? What effect might that be having on her response to Raymond's admissions?

10. One sister rages on with homophobic rhetoric, while the other is defensive of DJ's position. How does this exchange inform us about DJ's life?

11. DJ clearly states that even the worst of her abusers were neither all good nor all bad. As an adult, she is able to both see and understand this distinction. How difficult might that have been for her to comprehend as a child if she was told to think of her family that way?

12, Only the slightest hint of DJ being in a relationship is offered in this novel. Would you, as the reader, have wanted more information? Where would that have possibly taken the story?

13. DJ's abusers - her father and two of his brothers - are essential to the memoir and the story, but remain less well-developed than other characters. Raymond, on the other hand, is the focal point, and she is initially very defensive of him. Do you think her feelings for him are legitimate given what he does for a living? Given what she eventually learns he has done?

14. Ultimately, Wait Until I'm Dead! is about family secrets, and the unraveling that can occur when they are revealed. Steps people take to hide one secret, often lead to deeper and more dangerous secrets. Was one secret worse than another? Why have individual characters held onto them for so long, and why is it so difficult for one (DJ's mother) to admit that these events happened at all?

15. Which character in the book do you identify with the most and why?

16. What was the motivation for Raymond to do what he did? Protecting DJ and her sisters, or protecting his business ventures? Does choosing the former, make him a better person than if he chose the latter?

17. The book presents an interesting moral dilemma. What, if any, should be the consequences if an evil person does a good thing - or if a good person does an evil thing?

Raymond tends to see what he did as clearly black and white, and is confused by DJ's anger at what he did. What did Raymond's actions take away from DJ? Should she have reported him for what he did? Why does it appear that DJ rejected that option? If you were DJ, what would you have done, and why?

18. DJ's relationship with her mother is complicated - she failed her in so many ways, but did not abuse her. DJ does not blame her, but neither does she forgive her. What would forgiveness entail and do you think it is essential for her to fully heal? Society often blames mothers for abuse that happens in their home. What path around that issue did the author take in this novel and what did you think of it?

19. DJ's accounts of her experience in therapy are formative to the later pages of the memoir. How important are they to your understanding of how she is able to function so well as a successful adult?

20. What qualities did DJ find so helpful in the therapies and therapists she utilized to help her overcome her early trauma? What were the most striking things she revealed about her experiences in treatment?

21. Vincent's appearance at DJ's home results in her going back on her decision to have little to do with Raymond. Does it seem possible for a person to resolve their inner conflict in such a way that they are capable of helping someone die who has hurt them in the way DJ has both been hurt by and holds so much anger toward Raymond?

22. DJ took us on a whirlwind long weekend of secrets, intrigue, family travails, and bonding friendships - all with the goal of accomplishing the task of telling about her memoir. Do you think she ended the task with a sense of completeness, of a job well done? Did the ending disappoint you as the reader, or did it leave you feeling more needed to be done? What would that have been?

23. What do you think Raymond had as his ultimate reason for writing the confession for DJ's book? Were you satisfied with her response? What might you have done differently?

24. What would you imagine DJ's life to look like in the next few years as her memoir does well? How might that affect her relationships with her mother, uncle, sisters, Marsh, and with Kate and Tuck? Or Cole?

25. And finally, the author had as her goal the idea of writing an entertaining page-turner of a novel that would also educate the reader, and perhaps lead to a change in how we, as a society, work toward making children safer. As a result of completing this book, have you given any consideration to doing something different, something positive, about this serious problem? If so, what form would that take?

All readers are invited to look at the Resource Page for ideas about how to contribute to making the world a safer place for children. Support your local child welfare and social service agencies, volunteer time or services to prevention programs, lobby for laws that make adults accountable for inappropriate behavior toward children, learn how to be quiet when children are talking and really listen to what they are telling us, make yourself a "tellable" adult so that kids feel safe enough in your presence to disclose abuse to you, and ensure that they get the help they need when they do. Treat children with respect. And honor the voices of adult survivors who help us daily understand their experiences when they speak out so that we will be better prepared to help the next child that discloses. And, if you are one of the many wonderful therapists with the gifts of patient listening and compassion, thank you from the bottom of this author's soul.