Book club questions for Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane focuses on the key characters, events and the theme of forgiveness. There will be spoilers so be sure to check out my spoiler-free review first.
Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope, rookie cops in the NYPD, live next door to each other outside the city. What happens behind closed doors in both houses—the loneliness of Francis’s wife, Lena, and the instability of Brian’s wife, Anne, sets the stage for the explosive events to come.
Ask Again, Yes is a deeply affecting exploration of the lifelong friendship and love that blossoms between Kate Gleeson and Peter Stanhope, born six months apart. One shocking night their loyalties are divided, and their bond will be tested again and again over the next 40 years. Luminous, heartbreaking, and redemptive, Ask Again, Yes reveals the way childhood memories change when viewed from the distance of adulthood—villains lose their menace and those who appeared innocent seem less so. Kate and Peter’s love story, while haunted by echoes from the past, is marked by tenderness, generosity, and grace.
Book Club Questions for Ask Again, Yes
- The story starts off quietly with Frances and Brian as rookie cops in New York. On the surface they have a lot of common: both cops around the same age and taking the next steps in life with marriage and kids. But yet, you can tell right away that they are quite different. What was your initial impressions of both men? Why do you think they were never able to develop a true friendship?
- Frances’ wife Lena tries to become friends with Brian’s wife, Anne. But Anne quickly pushes her away rather harshly. In many ways, this dynamic sets the stage for what will come for the next 40 years. What would you have done if you were Lena? Would you have continued to try with Anne or would you have given up? Did you suspect then that there was something wrong with Anne?
- Kate and Peter are best friends. When Kate accidentally falls and Peter helps her, on page 70, Anne confronts them and tells Kate, “you think you’re so smart.” What was Anne’s issue with Kate? Is that something that is even definable? And then Lena comes out and slaps Kate on the face in-front of both Peter and Anne. Why would she do this? Was it because Kate was with Peter, Anne’s son, of all people?
- Anne begins to act out constantly, and it all comes to a head when she has a breakdown publicly. But Brian, her husband, doesn’t try to help her or even acknowledge there’s an issue. Why do you think he chose to do nothing? How would have things been different if he would have gotten Anne help?
- Kate and Peter began to fall for each other and one night, they sneak out to spend time with each other. However, they get caught, which enrages Anne. Peter rushes over to the house to call the police on his mom but Frances tries to defuse the situation and goes over there—only to be shot in the face by Anne. Let’s discuss what we thought as this scene progressed. How could something like this happen? Why did Anne shoot Francis?
- The fallout of the shooting impacted the two families forever. Peter eventually moves in with his Uncle George—with his father leaving behind his son forever to move south. Kate continues with education and has a boyfriend—but her thoughts are always on Peter. Let’s talk about how that event impacted Peter and Kate as teenagers. Did you understand why Peter didn’t try to reach out to Kate during this time? Let’s talk about George and how he was the only one there for Peter the entire time.
- Anne avoids jail and gets sent to a psychiatric facility. Why did she not want to see Peter? On page 206, she says, “she wonder if it was possible that she had none of these things the doctor said she had, paranoid personality disorder, schizophrenia, schizoid personality disorder, bipolar disorder…but she wondered if she was simply very, very mean.” What do you think about this? Do you believe she had a disorder? Or do you believe she was just simply mean? Or is the truth somewhere in-between?
- Peter and Kate come back together and develop a romance. Do you think they were destined to be together, bonded by tragedy or just simply fell in love? Let’s talk about their romance.
- Anne starts to stalk the two—and hopes that Kate can help her connect with Peter again. But Kate tells her to leave them alone. Did you understand why Kate did that?
- When Peter tells George that he’s with Kate, on page 244, George think it’s a bad idea. He tells Peter, “Because it means that all that stuff from years ago, it didn’t end back then. It’s still happening.” But Peter thinks everything that happened—happened to their parents. Do you agree with that? Do you think Kate and Peter are a good match?
- Like his father and Uncle George, Peter becomes an alcoholic. Kate tries to ignore it until it’s too big to avoid. And as a last resort, she turns to Anne, of all people, for help. Let’s talk about this decision to bring Anne back into the fold. What did you think about Anne once the book was finished?
- The big theme of this novel centers on forgiveness—Peter and Anne; Kate and Peter; Frances and Anne; Lena and Frances; and everyone with Brian. Let’s talk about this central theme. Would you have been able to forgive?
- On the last page of the novel, Lena remarks to Francis, “I think we’ve been luckier than most people.” And Francis agrees. Let’s discuss the character progression that leads them to finally accept life for what it is—not what it could have been.
What to read next
Another book that leads to lots of discussion for book clubs is Miracle Creek by Angie Kim.
In a small town in Virginia, a group of people know each other because they’re part of a special treatment center, a hyperbaric chamber that may cure a range of conditions from infertility to autism. But then the chamber explodes, two people die, and it’s clear the explosion wasn’t an accident.
A powerful showdown unfolds as the story moves across characters who are all maybe keeping secrets, hiding betrayals. Chapter by chapter, we shift alliances and gather evidence: Was it the careless mother of a patient? Was it the owners, hoping to cash in on a big insurance payment and send their daughter to college? Could it have been a protester, trying to prove the treatment isn’t safe?
“A stunning debut about parents, children and the unwavering hope of a better life, even when all hope seems lost” (Washington Post), Miracle Creek uncovers the worst prejudice and best intentions, tense rivalries and the challenges of parenting a child with special needs. It’s “a quick-paced murder mystery that plumbs the power and perils of community” (O Magazine) as it carefully pieces together the tense atmosphere of a courtroom drama and the complexities of life as an immigrant family. Drawing on the author’s own experiences as a Korean-American, former trial lawyer, and mother of a “miracle submarine” patient, this is a novel steeped in suspense and igniting discussion.
The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin is a story about love, betrayal and forgiveness among four siblings.
When the renowned poet Fiona Skinner is asked about the inspiration behind her iconic work, The Love Poem, she tells her audience a story about her family and a betrayal that reverberates through time.
It begins in a big yellow house with a funeral, an iron poker, and a brief variation forever known as the Pause: a free and feral summer in a middle-class Connecticut town. Caught between the predictable life they once led and an uncertain future that stretches before them, the Skinner siblings—fierce Renee, sensitive Caroline, golden boy Joe and watchful Fiona—emerge from the Pause staunchly loyal and deeply connected. Two decades later, the siblings find themselves once again confronted with a family crisis that tests the strength of these bonds and forces them to question the life choices they’ve made and ask what, exactly, they will do for love.
A sweeping yet intimate epic about one American family, The Last Romantics is an unforgettable exploration of the ties that bind us together, the responsibilities we embrace and the duties we resent, and how we can lose—and sometimes rescue—the ones we love. A novel that pierces the heart and lingers in the mind, it is also a beautiful meditation on the power of stories—how they navigate us through difficult times, help us understand the past, and point the way toward our future.