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The Tumbling Turner Sisters: A Novel
by Juliette Fay
Paperback : 352 pages
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For fans of Orphan Train and Water for Elephants, a compelling historical novel from “one of the best authors of women’s fiction” (Library Journal). Set against the turbulent backdrop of American Vaudeville, four sisters embark on an unexpected adventure—and a last-ditch effort to save their family.
It’s 1919, and the Turners are barely scraping by. When their father loses his job, their irrepressible mother decides that vaudeville is their best chance to make the rent—and create a more exciting life for herself in the process.
Traveling by train from town to town, teenagers Gert, Winnie, and Kit, and recent widow Nell soon find a new kind of freedom in the company of performers who are as diverse as their acts. There is a seamier side to the business, however, and the young women face dangers and turns of fate they never could have anticipated. Heartwarming and surprising, The Tumbling Turner Sisters is ultimately a story of awakening—to unexpected possibilities, to love and heartbreak, and to the dawn of a new American era.
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Discussion Questions1. Early in the novel, Gert muses about what she’s willing to do to have “a bigger, better life.” Going on tour certainly gives her a broader view of the world, but by the end of the novel, would you say her life is better? How does Gert’s definition of a better life change?
2. In many ways, gender roles in the Turner family are reversed: the women become the providers and work outside of the home, while Mr. Turner leads a more domestic life after his injury. Were you surprised by the amount of freedom women in the 1910s were depicted as having in the novel? Why or why not?
3. The Turners get a kick out of Kit’s newfound mastery of vaudeville slang. What familiar phrases were you most surprised to find had vaudeville roots?
4. Winnie, Gert, and Tip share a sense of being trapped by others’ expectations, exemplified in the competing concepts of “blacking up” and “living large.” In what ways do they fight society’s prejudices, and in what ways must they find compromises?
5. At the beginning of Chapter 18, Gert says: “You think your heart belongs to you, and you can order it around, but you can’t. You belong to it.” Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?
6. Mrs. Turner is even more excited to join the world of vaudeville than her girls. Why is vaudeville so appealing to her? What does it offer that her life at home does not? Could you relate to her? Why or why not?
7. Fay opens each chapter with a quote from a famous real-life contemporary of the fictional Turner sisters, including singers, dancers, acrobats, and comedians. Which quotation resonated most with you?
8. “How much bending of oneself was necessary to nurture one’s love for someone with differing views?” Though Winnie wonders about this in terms of her romance with Joe, apply this same question to Nell, Gert and Kit. In what ways does each of the sisters risk conflict with others by being themselves?
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