4 reviews

Outside Wonderland
by Lorna Jane Cook

Published: 2011-03-29
Paperback : 336 pages
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Recommended to book clubs by 4 of 4 members
Alice, Griffin, and Dinah Stenen's mother and father died tragically when they were quite young. The loss haunts them into adulthood. Alice is a stage actress in New York who can't commit to a relationship. When she meets Ian she's smitten, but suspects it's Ian's four-year-old son that really ...
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Alice, Griffin, and Dinah Stenen's mother and father died tragically when they were quite young. The loss haunts them into adulthood. Alice is a stage actress in New York who can't commit to a relationship. When she meets Ian she's smitten, but suspects it's Ian's four-year-old son that really captivates her. Griffin and his longtime partner are settled into a contented domesticity, however Theo's insistence that they adopt a child throws Griffin into a panic. When he refuses to cooperate, the crack in their relationship widens. Dinah, the youngest, has a short, passionate love affair that leaves her pregnant and alone when she discovers the father is engaged to someone else. The three look to each other for support during this rough period but they falter. What they don't know is that their parents are watching them from a place outside time and space--worrying, reminiscing, and perhaps guiding their children as each makes their tentative way towards happiness. In luminous prose, Cook tells the story of these tender souls and a love that knows no boundaries.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.


I was not privy to the early years after my departure, but I caught my fi rst glimpse on a breezy May morning in 1973. I watched them arrive in Athens as in a dream, an American father and three children, aged nine, twelve, and nearly fifteen. James Stenen was (still) leggy and intense; the jet- lagged children were mimicking his gait, though the eldest, Alice, was uncannily a mirror image of me, her late mother. I was pleased by this, but more so by my family’s new location. James had finally gotten his wish— the sabbatical in Greece he’d talked about since the day we wed. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the publisher:

1.) The scenes and observations of the parents from up Here is a unique way for the writer and reader to share reflections on the unfolding lives of the Stenen siblings. What stood out most for you from the scenes from Here? How does this possibility of an afterlife fit with your beliefs about what lies beyond?

2.) How likely is it that the siblings feel some of the love and concern that their parents are showing for them from the great beyond?

3.) The siblings are drawn very sympathetically; their shared experience of loss shapes them each in different ways. How does that loss affect each of them?

4.) Which of the three main characters – Alice, Dinah and Griffin – do you relate to most?

5.) The parents say that although the children have changed they are still the same, “earnestly making their way in a fractured life.” Discuss how resilience and love binds them.

6.) Each of the Stenens deals with the fact that bad things can happen at any time in a unique way. Alice braces herself for what might come next and escapes into acting to let herself be free. Dinah discovers a strong religious faith in Greece and her belief in fate and purpose makes her put family first yet she longs for love and romance. Griffin knows that families are fragile and he loves his partner Theo deeply but feels parenthood is for other people – it’s tempting fate. What drives each of them to take the risks that they do to create families of their own as adults?

7.) How do each of the siblings define family? How do the living arrangements that evolve over the course of the story reflect their desires and fears about family? How do you define family?

8.) Dinah acts out of character by having an impetuous affair on the cruise. Why do you think she threw caution to the wind?

9.) As Dinah screams at the falls, filled with disappointment and doubt after finding that Eduardo is to be married, she waits for a sign from God. Her mother comments “Now she’ll have to shake up her life and change things.” How do you think Dinah handles the consequences of her actions? What do you think of how heavily she leans on her family to help her through?

10.) Why did Griffin adopt Holly, the dog, when Theo was so clearly against it? Why couldn’t Griffin talk to Theo about his fears about parenthood and family? How unreasonable was it to expect Theo to understand without really being told?

11.) Why was Griffin drawn to Ray? What need did Ray fulfill for him? Why do you think Griffin was willing to give up his relationship with Theo for someone he barely knew?

12.) Alice becomes entranced by Adam, the three year old son of her neighbor and lover Ian. She thinks perhaps her fantasy of belonging in their lives could be real, perhaps it’s where she’s meant to be. What is Alice looking for in Ian and Adam? How do her doubts sabotage her desires especially after she loses Adam for a few minutes in the park one day?

13.) Alice notes “when she was around Neil, she kept reaching for her old self.” What do you make of Alice being drawn to being wanted by Neil at the same time she wishes that Ian would ask to make their relationship permanent? What do you think about her parents’ reflection that: “Alice may love them all (and she does) but still do the wrong thing. And not even intentionally. Just because she’s restless, and, yes, a little blue.”

14.) What do you think about Dinah and Theo and Eva pretending to be the happy family? And Griffin sneaking around watching them, stalking the old homestead?

15.) After Holly is gone and Griffin moves back in, Dinah feels like she doesn’t fit anymore, and she is surprised that Theo can so easily forgive Griffin. What do you think of the shift back for Theo and Griffin?

16.) What do you think the title of the book means? Where do you imagine the three main characters' lives going from here?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "Outside Wonderland"by AngieF (see profile) 10/02/11

I won this for my book club from Book Movement and we read it for our September 2011 selection. General comments by our group were, "a quick read," "an enjoyable story."

  "Outside Wonderland"by sonalea (see profile) 06/14/11

I liked it. Interesting family dynamics with losing parents so early in life.

  "Outside Wonderland"by anairene (see profile) 05/18/11

it was very enjoyable. Kind of nice to think someone you love
is watching over you.

  "outside wonderland"by susanprestwood (see profile) 04/19/11

The struggle of three adult siblings to overcome the loss of both parents at young ages is countered by the parents in a heavenly place watching their children through small glimpses of their lives. I... (read more)

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