BKMT READING GUIDES

UNBROKEN
by Jamie Lisa Forbes

Published: 2010-05-20
Paperback : 324 pages
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Ranching is a life of extremes, perhaps even more so on the high plains near Laramie, Wyoming. And no one knows that better than Gwen Swan, who married both her husband Will and his family ranch where she works hard beside the men and struggles to raise her two children.

Meg ...

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Introduction

Ranching is a life of extremes, perhaps even more so on the high plains near Laramie, Wyoming. And no one knows that better than Gwen Swan, who married both her husband Will and his family ranch where she works hard beside the men and struggles to raise her two children.

Meg Braeburn, who has broken away from her family's ranch, expects unrelenting hard work when she takes a job on the place neighboring the Swans'. She and her son face an uncertain future, but she is determined to leave the past behind and make a good life for them. Gwen, who understands the corrosive effects of isolation better than Meg, includes Meg in her family and community and wins Meg's gratitude and support.

But there is little time for reflection on anyone's part as the wheel of the seasons grinds relentlessly onward bringing disasters and triumphs and a a rough road for all concerned. The prodigal Swan son returns and relationships shift, old resentments resurface and friendships are strained and tested as everyone finds themselves struggling against the elements and each other to continue their way of life.

In this remarkable debut novel the author presents us with fully formed characters that ring as clear and true as the picture of ranch life she paints as a background for the universal struggles we all confront.

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Excerpt

I.
Gwen Swan stomped her feet on the porch mat. In the gray light, she fretted over the five eggs in her pail, ignoring the icy draft ruffling the dogs. Damnit—now she’d have to buy eggs in town. The door scraped the floor planks as she pushed it shut and the dogs hunkered back down on their beds with soft groans. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1. Who are the readers’ favorite American literature heroines? Do Meg and Gwen fit the pattern of these heroines or do they represent a different statement about the lives of American women? For example, are these women extensions of Scarlett O’Hara?

2. Early in the novel, Meg chooses to remain with her employer, Mather, despite deplorable conditions. Later, Gwen, having left the Swan family ranch, chooses to return. Were these choices the “right” choices for each of these characters?

3. Nature in American literature is frequently escapist, that is, an escape and a refuge from a human world. Can it be said of the characters in this novel that they live “escapist” lives? Could any of these characters live in the “real” world?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Note from the author:

After a decade of raising my own family on a ranch, I realized what a shallow contrivance the cowboy myth was when measured against women all around me who lived extraordinary lives of quiet courage, unrecognized by the broader world. I was honored to be able to write about my contemporaries and at the same time, communicate the broader themes of reconciliation and redemption.

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