Readers Discussion Guide for UnderStory by Lisa J. Lickel
When nobody loves you, you have nothing to lose.
Lily Masters is not getting involved with any fake job scheme covering a sex trafficking operation supposedly cooked up by her stepbrother, prison guard Art Townsend. Hoping to get help at a friend’s place deep in the woods of northern Wisconsin before a blizzard, Lily loses her way. At first, she doesn’t realize how fortunate she is to be found by Cam Taylor, a poetry-spouting former lit professor. Cam has his own reasons to hide while writing a biography of his Civil Rights activist grandparents and accidentally stirs up a cold case murder involving a potential Supreme Court judge. When trouble follows, either of them is the likely target.
Beneath every story is layer upon layer of trust and lies. Who can they believe when things go from surreal to devastating?
Amazon Kindle http://amzn.to/2ew7YMM
Keywords: racism, prejudice, Wisconsin, suspense, sex trafficking, prison life, dogs, blizzard, Civil Rights
1. The underlying theme of UnderStory is prejudice. We all judge people and situations around us either consciously or not, and judge ourselves by the way we think others see us. Lily and Cam are no different. How did they see themselves? In what ways does prejudice affect your life?
2. Lily and Cam come from families which shaped and scarred them. Compare Lily’s Midwestern upbringing and blended family with Cam’s biracial parentage and military brat upbringing. Which aspects of their lives influenced them the most? Which made them stronger?
3. What made Cam run away from his life as a literature professor in a small-town college? Should he have stayed in his job?
4. How did Lily adapt to her condition? What did she sacrifice to keep her secret? Should she have kept it secret?
5. Art Townsend, Lily’s stepbrother, is a small-minded man operating out of selfishness. Why would Lily allow him to have any kind of control in her life? By the same token, her father, Roman, was toppled by the weight of his self-righteousness. At what point did Lily realize that family blood didn’t equal automatic family loyalty?
6. Lily’s nephew Kenny is given his own voice in UnderStory. How would the book be different if we didn’t hear his side?
7. Cam shares his love of literature, both Shakespeare and an American early nineteenth century poet, with Lily. How does he reconcile the two sides of his nature, that of soldier and of scholar? How does the poem, “The First Snowfall,” fit into the narrative?
8. When did Lily know she could trust Cam with her mission to rescue her nephew and expose the criminal activity in town? How could a community like Barter Valley allow an outside influence to establish a foothold? What other examples can you cite where outside influences have tried or succeeded in molding local opinion, or even laws and ordinances?
9. Cam is working on a biography of his grandparents who were active during the 1960s Civil Rights movement in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He unwittingly uncovers a secret about what his grandparents witnessed, and a potential answer to a wrong done to his family. What was the result of Cam’s research?
10. What did you think of Barter Valley? Would you like to visit or live in a community like that? What were the positive and negative aspects of the village and its residents? How does it compare to your community?
11. Sven and Ole serve as comic relief in the otherwise dark story. Whose side are they on? How did they both help and get in the way of Cam and Lily? What did Cam learn about them and himself at the end of the story?
12. Special Agent Forbes invites Cam to join the Department of Justice. What kind of agent might Cam have been? Should he join?
13. Georgia Weams is a formidable force. What role did Cam’s sister play in his life? What did she need, in general, and in this story timeline? Do you think she found what she was looking for?
14. Kenny Masters is a product of his upbringing. Do you have hope for his future? For Cam and Lily? Did the people in the story get, or not get, what they expected?
15. The secretive international sex trade operation presumably left Barter Valley. Was that the end of their influence? How can we, individually and as a society, learn to recognize and evaluate beneficial and damaging motives behind seemingly positive activity, programs, and donations to our organizations or communities?