The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin is a story about love, betrayal and forgiveness among four siblings. The following book club questions will have spoilers so if you haven’t read the novel yet, check out my preview and review first.
The story follows renowned poet Fiona Skinner at age 102 when she’s speaking at an event celebrating her poetry, which is her first public event in 25 years. When a girl named Luna asks her the inspiration behind her most famous work, that familiar name from her past inspires her to to tell her audience a story about her family and a betrayal.
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. 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.
Let’s get into the book club questions.
- The book starts off in the year 2079 when Fiona is 102. Why do you think the author decided to start the book this way? Why do you think Fiona turned to poetry?
- What do you think was wrong with Noni? Was she depressed or was it something else?
- What did you think about the childhood sections and the Pause? Why do you think Joe and Fiona become so close? Let’s talk about some of the ways that Joe was very protective of his sisters.
- When Renee turned 13, a man tried to attack her but Joe was able to rescue her. While it was an isolated incident, Fiona says it “injected us in a way I didn’t understand until much later….The incident made us all vulnerable, although in different ways.” Let’s talk about the impact of the incident on each of the four siblings.
- After emerging from the pause, Noni lectured her girls about feminism and paving their own success. While Renee and Fiona listened avidly, Caroline said she wanted to be married and have kids. Do you think Caroline was in some ways rebelling when she went away with Nathan and marred him young?
- Noni in some ways seems to favor Joe over the other girls. Let’s talk about how that had lasting effects on the three siblings.
- We go back and forth between the past and the future (year 2079). It’s clear that the world is suffering from catastrophic climate change. What did you think about those sections? What do you believe the author was trying to say there?
- Fiona tells the crowd that the story is about the failures of love. What did she mean by that?
- Fiona tries to remember when Joe’s unraveling begin. When do you think it was? Why did he turn to drugs and alcohol? What do you think about his claims that he could talk to their deceased dad?
- Why did the sisters hid the truth of what happened to Joe and baseball from Fiona and their mother?
- Let’s talk about Fiona’s The Last Romantic blog. Why did she start it? What did the title represent? Why do you think she was so intent on writing about her sex life? Why do you think the author chose The Last Romantics as the title of this book?
- Let’s talk about Joe and Sandrine’s engagement party. How did it all fall apart for Joe then?
- None of the family ever liked Sandrine. On page 182 when Fiona is considering this, she acknowledges to herself that they never cared for and that she wished Joe had chosen someone more like us, his sisters. She says
And what did that say about his regard for us, that he had selected the exact kind of person whom each of us would despise equally, but for different reasons. Did he want to push us away?
Do you think Joe did want to push his family away? Or was he trying to find a different identity away from his family?
- With time and reflection, Fiona believes that the accident to Joe would have happened no matter what. That the “accident was searching for Joe, and eventually it would find him.” Do you believe that certain events are inevitable?
- What did you think about Luna? Why was Joe drawn to her?
- On page 222, Joe falls and Luna thinks that he’s just passing out from drinking. Why do you think she didn’t try to wake him or call someone? Was she simply just being naive?
- Let’s talk about how Joe’s death impacted the three sisters. How did it cause them to develop a rift? What brought them back together?
- Why did Fiona go see Luna? Why do you think she felt compelled to give Luna the engagement ring from Joe? We also find out that Luna had Joe’s child, do you think it was wrong of her to never let the family know about him? Why do you think Fiona never told her sisters about any of that? What would you have done if you were Fiona?
- What do you think was the overall theme of the novel?
Family saga recommendations
Stories that revolve around families always make good discussion books. Here’s some more recommendations:
A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza is a heavy and thought-provoking read. As an Indian wedding gathers a family back together, parents Rafiq and Layla must reckon with the choices their children have made. Much of the novel is focused on the conflict between tradition and rebellion. Definitely have tissues nearby for this one. You can purchase the book on Amazon here. My discussion questions can be found here.
The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah is a moving and rich story about family secrets and lost love set in the vineyards of Burgundy. If you enjoy mysteries, historical fiction, wine, French culture with a love story mixed in, you’ll enjoy this one. We follow the first-person perspective of the protagonist throughout her journey in present time. The perspective of her great-half aunt is told through her diary entries during the Nazi occupation. You can purchase the book on Amazon here. My discussion questions can be found here.