Bride Island
by Alexandra Enders

Published: 2007-06-26
Paperback : 276 pages
74 members reading this now
6 clubs reading this now
3 members have read this book
"Enders writes with such bone-deep honesty we know from the opening pages that it is winner take all." —Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Deep End of The Ocean

Can a mother reclaim the daughter she lost?

Six years ago, Polly Birdswell—drinking and deeply unhappy—made a ...

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"Enders writes with such bone-deep honesty we know from the opening pages that it is winner take all." —Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Deep End of The Ocean

Can a mother reclaim the daughter she lost?

Six years ago, Polly Birdswell—drinking and deeply unhappy—made a decision that changed her life forever. Believing she could spare her young daughter a legacy of self-destruction, she left her husband and child and moved north to a coastal town in Maine. There, close to Bride Island, the beloved family retreat she considers her true home, she set about getting sober and remaking her life.

Now Polly desperately wants seven-year-old Monroe back and is determined to prove—to herself especially—she's a stable and loving mother. At the same time, a sudden decision to sell Bride Island unleashes a wave of family greed that endangers the island's future. As Polly and her siblings try to claim ownership of what they love, they discover some things can never truly be owned, and Polly must again ask herself what she's willing to relinquish. Beautifully written and emotionally complex, Bride Island is a poignant debut novel about love, motherhood, and the haunting and sometimes conflicting pulls of family and the places that shape us.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.


Chapter 1

“All right, you have half,” my daughter says. She parcels out the remaining grapes one by one. “Six for you, six for me.” They are the last on the stalk, the ones we thought too tiny to eat before, some no bigger than raisins, one little pip the size of a pomegranate seed. I want to tell Monroe to keep them all, I’m half heart broken that she’s so judicious, surely in a child greed and self-interest would be more appropriate? But Daniel, her father, has trained her well, and besides, I’m hungry and the rest of the food is in the trunk of the car. So I eat the tiny grapes, each one popping as my teeth pierce the sweet red skin. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the publisher:

1. The novel begins during one of Monroe’s summer visits to Bride Island. Why is this visit different for Polly? Why do you think she decides at this time that she wants to have custody of her daughter? What in her life has changed? What in her life hasn’t changed? What do you think motivated her decision to finally seek custody?

2. Polly thought “marriage would be an end, a container. But it wasn’t a house I stepped into, it was only a gate I passed through” (p. 20). What does Polly mean by this? What were her expectations of marriage and motherhood? In what ways did her expectations fail her? In what ways did she, herself, fail?

3. Discuss the marriages in the book: Elena and Roger; Caitlin and Herbert; Dan and Chloe; and Russ and Melanie. Are all these relationships dysfunctional? Does Polly ever see a happy marriage? How do these relationships impact her own life and her own views on love?

4. When Polly is first tempted to kiss Steven, she thinks, “I remind myself that I have to be careful, that I need to protect Steven as much as myself” (p.47). Why does Polly need to be careful? In the end, is she careful? In what ways does she lead a careless life? In what ways does she try to protect herself and those she loves? Is she successful?

5. How does Polly view Chloe and Elena as mothers? How does she see her own mother? Do the other mothers whom she comes in contact with make her want to be a mother, or do they make her question her own abilities to be a good mother? Discuss the role of motherhood in this novel. How do the mothers in this novel help or hinder their children?

6. Polly ran away from her husband and small child. In what ways has she grown since then? In what ways is her life still out of control? Do you think her family creates more problems in her life, or do you think they want the best for her? In what ways do the Birdswells sabotage each other’s happiness? Why do you think this is?

7. How does death affect the Birdswell family? How does Herbert’s death affect them? Roger’s death? The deaths of their childhood? Why do they continue to be haunted by the ghosts of their past? In what ways does each of these deaths change them?

8. Discuss each of the Birdswell siblings. How do they grow throughout the novel? Do you think their relationships with one another improve? What factors contribute to this? How does life pull them apart and bring them together?

9. What do you think of Polly’s relationship with Colin? What was their relationship like when he was alive? Has it changed since he died? Do you think it’s possible that Colin let himself drown? Why or why not? In what ways does Collin’s death—and life—influence Polly’s life? Do you think she will ever let Colin go?

10. In what ways is Russ a destructive force in the Birdswell family? What do you think motivates him? How do his decisions affect them all? Caitlin tells Polly that she gave Russ the island because he needed it more than Polly. Do you think that’s true? How are Polly’s needs different Russ’s in respect to the island? Who do you think stands to gain more from its ownership?

11. How does Roger’s death serve as a reality-check for the entire Birdswell family? Do you think he committed suicide? Why?

12. Why do you think Dan agrees to go on the river trip with Polly? Discuss the river trip. What changes for both Polly and Dan during the trip? What do they learn about each other?

13. The portions of the novel that take place on Bride Island are written in present tense, while the rest of the novel is written in past tense. Why do you think that is? What is the effect of this device? In what way is Polly’s present life on the island?

14. How is Polly ultimately redeemed at the end of the novel? Were you satisfied with the arrangement she and Dan made in regards to Monroe’s visits? Do you think Polly is satisfied? Why or why not?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

A note from Alexandra to BookMovement members:

BRIDE ISLAND is about a woman, Polly, who does not trust herself as a mother, who believes in fact that her daughter would be better off without her. At the same time, she is fiercely, unequivocally devoted to a piece of land, Bride Island. The paradox of these two coexisting states of mind interested me—the idea of the “bad” or “un-maternal” mother who is yet a true steward of land. And when the island comes under threat of developers just as she decides to push for custody, Polly is forced to both confront her past and accept that some things can never truly be owned. BRIDE ISLAND is about love, motherhood, and the haunting and sometimes conflicting pulls of family and the places that shape us. Like most of my work it has a dark heart, but it also explores the redemptive possibilities of forgiveness.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "Easy read, however no depth to writing style"by Gail M. (see profile) 02/13/09

Our Book Club enjoyed reading the book - fairly easy and quick. However, lack of complexity in the writing style was problematic for some members.

Story was interesting- the author makes

... (read more)

  "Polly gives up her daughter due to drinking addiction so she has a better life then doubts her decision later on in life"by c p. (see profile) 08/26/08

I found this book to be rather depressing, but as far as a group discussion book, the book is a great choice. There are so many characters in one family but they are all interesting topics o... (read more)

  "book was fair"by kathleen p. (see profile) 08/25/08

book was fair. the middle of the book picked up and the ending was o.k. did not make a good discussion book.

  "Highly recommend"by LN T. (see profile) 07/30/08

Different sort of novel. Deals with some real, raw issues. Excellent fodder for discussion at our club. Some could relate, some could not, but everyone liked the flawed heroine.

  "excellent read"by ellen t. (see profile) 07/29/08

Good read. I enjoyed the characters--especially Polly. Very honest writing.

  "An Honest book"by Ellen t. (see profile) 07/29/08

At times, difficult to read because you want to just shake Polly and say "snap out of it"! But in the end, a very satisfying book

  "Well thought out novel"by E T. (see profile) 07/29/08

I really enjoyed this book. Polly, the main character, was a very real person, with some very real problems, but she learns to deal with them in the end. "Grows up" so to speak. A thoughtful book.

  "A raw, truthful book about about a woman struggling to make right"by Donna P. (see profile) 07/12/08

A really good book. You can identify with the main character and her trying to fix the mistakes in her life. She struggles with her dysfunctional family and the death of her brother.

  "wonderful narration, characters are well established, good length"by Leslie H. (see profile) 11/15/07

Our book club suffered through a couple duds the last few months, but this one has lifted my spirits. Enders creates a world where things are not "black and white." Characters who I thought were type-casted... (read more)

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