Do you think Millie makes the right decision by marrying Bump? What makes some marriages stick while so many others fall apart, and what would you advise a young couple wanting to get married today? If you are not married, what do you expect of marriage and a spouse?
As Millie enters her new marriage, she struggles to develop a fully open and trusting intimacy with Bump. She also resists the urge to tell him why this is the case. Although Millie has been determined not to repeat the mistakes of her parents, how is she continuing certain cycles of dysfunction? Have you ever hurt someone you loved when your intentions were to protect them or shield them from a truth you thought would hurt them more? Is there anything your loved ones could tell you that would make you love them less?
In Colorado, Millie and Bump are met with many challenges. How does this experience bring them closer? Tear them apart? What are some of the most challenging situations you’ve ever had? Have you missed big opportunities because you were afraid of change or afraid to fail?
When Kat and Millie become friends, Millie admires Kat and wants to be like her in certain ways. Do you have a friend you admire? Have you ever been jealous of a friend? Have you ever been deceived by a friend? Eventually Millie realizes Kat is not a good friend after all. Millie is hurt by that betrayal but still does the right thing when Kat needs help. If you were in Millie’s situation, would you have sent your husband to help Kat?
Millie becomes convinced her husband is having an affair with her only friend. What’s the worst thing your partner or friend has ever done to hurt you? Were you able to forgive? And likewise, how have you hurt the ones you love? Have they forgiven you? If you haven’t had to deal with infidelity, how do you think you would handle learning your spouse is having an affair?
Millie’s grandmother, Oka, serves as the voice of reason in this book. Do you like Oka? What did you learn from Oka’s character? What did you learn from her Choctaw stories? How important is the grandparent/child relationship in your family?
Millie admires Oka’s strength, beauty, talent, and wisdom. How has Oka managed to survive traumatic events in her life and still have such a sweet, genuine spirit? What does Oka teach Millie about forgiveness and grace?
When Millie first meets Oka, she notices Oka is Catholic when she makes the sign of the cross after her prayer. Oka mentions she grew up around the missionaries, as did many who are members of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw. Do you think Oka is a Christian? How do you think her faith impacts her life, and what do you think of the smudging scene at the end of the book? Do you think we may have more in common across varying religious practices than we sometimes believe?
Throughout the first section of this book, Millie is forced to make a terrible decision when she learns she is carrying Bill Miller’s child. What would you do if you found yourself in such a situation? What if your young daughter was in that situation? Where do you stand on the issue of abortion and what circumstances might make you feel differently? Have you ever had an abortion? How would you handle the situation if you were put there again? Have you ever adopted a child in need of a family?
At one point, Millie feels as if there is no right choice at all. Any route she takes brings pain to someone. We like to divide life into black and white categories, but sometimes life is messy and there is no perfect solution. Have you ever been in such a situation? Have you ever made a decision you regretted? How have you forgiven yourself for a bad choice? And how have you learned to move past that mistake and make the most of your new situation?
Near the end, Millie is given a second chance to choose her first love, River. Were you glad when River showed up to fight for Millie? How did you feel when Millie kissed River? How did you feel when you realized Bump saw this kiss? Were you glad when Bump finally fought for Millie too? Have you ever had to choose between two loves? What would you do if you were given a second chance to choose again?
What do you think about the way the book ends? What is the significance of the mountain lion throughout the book? How does nature have its way again and again in Millie’s life?
In the end, Bump tells Millie he has always been on her side. Do you have someone in your life like Bump, who loves you through and through? Does such perfect love exist outside of a novel? Why do you think so many people struggle to find healthy relationships?
What do you think will happen next for Millie and Bump and Isabel? What will happen to the other characters?
When writing this book, I actually wrote six or seven different endings before settling on this one. Pretend you are the author. Write a different ending to this story.
Pretend you are one of the characters in this book. Write a journal from that point of view. Now choose another character and repeat. How do the entries compare/contrast?
What would you want to happen next to the characters of this book? Write the first chapter of the next book in this series.
Choose one crucial scene in this book and rewrite it with a different result. For example, rewrite the wedding scene so that Millie and Bump do not end up getting married. Or the root-cellar scene so that Fortner agrees to give Millie what she wants. Consider the birth scene, the scene at the fencerow when Bump learns of the pregnancy, the confrontation with River, etc.
Write a letter to the author about your reaction to the book. I love hearing from readers.
Discuss the theme of nature, faith, forgiveness, or love from the book.
Compare and contrast character pairs from Into the Free and When Mountains Move. For example, how do Mabel and Oka compare? Diana and Kat? River and Bump? Sloth and Fortner? Mr. Tucker and Sheriff Halpin?
How do the Reverend Paul Applewhite (Millie’s grandfather) and Jack Reynolds (Millie’s father) compare? Are they more alike or different from one another? What characteristics of these two men attract so many admirers (church members and rodeo fans)? Are you more drawn to those who live on the edge of madness, the more eccentric, creative, or wild personalities? Or do more stable personalities demand your attention? Think of famous people in today’s society. What is it that makes them so magnetic? What kind of people do you most admire?
Throughout her life, Millie is trying to figure out whether or not she really believes in God. Her mother seems to rely on her faith to keep her anchored, singing hymns, praying, telling Bible stories, and quoting Scripture, yet she never takes Millie to church. Millie feels closest to God when she’s in nature, and she speaks of the gypsy gathering as “holy.” How does Millie’s questioning make you consider your own faith? When do you feel closest to God? What do you like or dislike about organized religion and traditions? Have you ever been judged, criticized, ostracized, or punished because of your faith? Have you ever visited a country (or do you live in a country) where religious worship is prohibited? What is the effect?
When Millie falls from the tree, she believes that a man catches her and saves her life. She sees this man many times, often when she feels most alone. Do you believe loved ones can watch over us after death? Do you believe in angels? Why do you think Millie’s guardian angel came in the form of Sloth rather than as one of her parents? What role did Sloth play in her life?
When Millie is just seventeen years old, she faces a choice of loving Bump or River. Do you think she makes the right choice? Do you think women have more options now than Millie did as a disadvantaged orphan girl in the 1940s? Even with more options, do women still tend to determine their life course based on their husband’s job and priorities? How does your religious affiliation affect the way you see yourself as a woman? Do you agree or disagree with your church’s view of women?
Throughout the book, Millie struggles to come to terms with traditional labels of “good” and “bad.” Bill Miller is described as a good man, even describing himself with those words as he begins to rape Millie. As a rodeo veterinarian, Bump might be looked down upon by the likes of the upper-class Millers. And Millie was surprised to find River a well-read, well-groomed adventurer, rather than the illiterate, dirty stereotype she thought he’d be. What does Millie learn about the way people are perceived and the truth about who they really are? Do you portray your true self to the public, or do you strive to maintain a perfect image, like the Miller family? What stereotypes or class issues do you struggle to overcome, either in the way you perceive others or in the way you are perceived? How many people know the real you?
How do you feel about the way Millie handled the situation in the steeple? Have you ever been a victim of sexual, verbal, or physical abuse? How have you learned to take a more active role in your own life in order to prevent further victimization? What would you do differently if you could go back to that moment again? Have you been able to forgive the person(s) who harmed you, and how has that ability or inability to forgive affected you? Likewise, have you ever been the one to inflict harm on another person? If so, take time to evaluate the causes and effects of such events. What can you do to break that cycle?
Even though Millie felt so alone most of her life, her life has been filled with lots of people who loved her: Sloth, Miss Harper, Mama. She also develops a special bond with Diana’s housekeeper, Mabel, and Diana’s daughter, Camille. What do you think about the relationship she builds with each of them? Do you think she’ll continue to develop those relationships after she leaves Iti Taloa? What people have helped shape your life? Do you believe people are put into our lives for a reason? What efforts do you make to nourish your friendships?
Millie has a complicated relationship with her mother and father, yet she loves them both. What do you value most about your parents or your children? What would you like to improve about your relationship? What steps can you take to build a healthier relationship with them? Likewise, Millie’s relationship with her grandparents is beyond strained. How do you see your role as a grandparent or grandchild?
Millie leaves town without confronting Bill Miller. She chooses not to let him control one more minute of her life. She tries to leave that history behind her and start her new life with Bump, claiming, “It is finished.” Do you think it’s possible to leave such traumatic events buried deep without ever coming to terms with them? Do you think the events that took place in the steeple will come back to haunt Millie, or is such a clean escape possible? Do you think she should tell Bump about the rape? Do you have secrets that you have kept from those you love? Have you ever wondered what would happen if you told the truth?
In the end, Millie reaches a comfortable place with her faith. She comes to believe that a loving God had been there all along, watching over her, allowing her to make her own choices. Do you believe everything is in God’s hands, and that all you need to do is pray (as Millie’s mother does)? Or do you believe God gives you options, and that it’s up to you to correct the negative things that happen to you, all while making your faith the central part of your life?
This story ends when Millie is seventeen, the morning after a devastating assault. Millie is still numb and in “survivor” mode when she leaves, and she hasn’t come to terms with the event yet. What do you predict will happen to her?
Who is your favorite character in this story? Why? Who is your least favorite character? Why?
What is your favorite scene? What scene made you react with the strongest emotions (good or bad)? What scene would you change, and how?
Do you think Millie would have left with the rodeo even if Bump hadn’t been with her? Do you think Millie will go to Colorado with Bump or stay with the Cauy Tucker group and compete with Firefly?
What do you think will happen to Bill and Diana Miller? Camille? Are you upset that Bill walks away unpunished at the end of the book? Do you think he will suffer consequences in the sequel or do you think some men get away with this kind of behavior, as their victims choose to remain silent, sometimes shamed?
What could Millie’s mother, Marie, have done differently to create a better life for herself and Millie?
What do you think of the symbolism with the mother dog and her pups? Do you know of any women who are willing to sacrifice their own children’s safety in order to survive? What do you think of Marie? Millie? And Millie’s grandmother, Sarah? Do you see a pattern to the mothering styles of Sarah and Marie? Do you think Millie, if given the chance, will break that pattern?
What do you think of the scene in the baptismal pool?
How do you like the traveler woman, Babushka? And what do you think about her noticing the shift in Millie from yellow to red?
What role do you think Mabel ends up playing in Millie’s life?