Solomon's Oak (Hardcover)
Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 9781608193301, 374pp.
Publication Date: October 12, 2010
"Solomon's Oak" is the story of three people who have suffered losses that changed their lives forever.
Glory Solomon, a young widow, holds tight to her memories while she struggles to hold on to her Central California farm. She makes ends meet by hosting weddings in the chapel her husband had built under their two-hundred-year-old white oak tree, known locally as Solomon's Oak. Fourteen-year-old Juniper McGuire is the lone survivor of a family decimated by her sister's disappearance. She arrives on Glory's doorstep, pierced, tattooed, angry, and homeless. When Glory's husband Dan was alive, they took in foster children, but Juniper may be more than she can handle alone. Joseph Vigil is a former Albuquerque police officer and crime lab photographer who was shot during a meth lab bust that took the life of his best friend. Now disabled and in constant pain, he arrives in California to fulfill his dream of photographing the state's giant trees, including Solomon's Oak.
In Jo-Ann Mapson's deeply felt, wise, and gritty novel, these three broken souls will find in each other an unexpected comfort, the bond of friendship, and a second chance to see the miracles of everyday life.
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
- Solomon’s Oak opens with the story of Alice Halloran, the woman who lost her child and her life in 1898. How does the legend of Alice’s ghost set the scene for the novel to come? How does Alice’s tragedy relate to the losses that Glory, Juniper, and Joseph have also endured?
- Solomon’s Oak Wedding Chapel specializes in untraditional ceremonies. Why is Glory open to hosting all kinds of weddings? How does the pirate wedding at the beginning of the novel spark other unconventional relationships for Glory?
- Glory’s specialty is “last-chance dogs”—training and nurturing abandoned pets. What strategies does Glory use to rehabilitate these last-chance dogs? Which of her dogs shows the most progress over the course of the novel? Why is Glory drawn to last-chance dogs—and to last-chance kids, like Juniper and other foster children?
- Discuss what “closet time” means to Glory. Why does she go to the closet when grief overwhelms her? How does Juniper react to Glory’s “closet time?”
- Discuss the first impression that Juniper makes on Glory. What “sharp edges” does Glory sense in Juniper when they first meet (49)? How does Juniper eventually change those first impressions? How does Juniper surprise Glory, and how does she disappoint her? What characteristics does Joseph glimpse in Juniper that Glory cannot see?
- Consider the complicated relationship Glory has with her sister Halle. Why is there so much conflict between the sisters? How does Glory misjudge Halle? How does Halle express her jealousy of Glory? How does Halle make up for so many years of conflict at the end of Solomon’s Oak?
- The “gospel according to Caroline,” says the social worker who brings Glory and Juniper together, is “a pair of unhappy people working together toward whatever kind of life there is after so much sorrow” (85). How do Glory and Juniper eventually build a shared life upon their separate sorrows? Why did Dan secretly make Caroline promise to find Glory the perfect foster child? How is Juniper a perfect match for Glory?
- Two people live on in Joseph’s memories: his grandmother Penny, and his friend from the police force, Rico. How does Joseph balance these two sets of memories: his happy childhood discoveries with his grandmother, and his flashbacks to the shooting that killed Rico? How does Joseph grieve for Penny and for Rico, and how does he honor their memories?
- What does Solomon’s Oak mean to Glory, Joseph, and Juniper? What artistic, financial, and symbolic possibilities does the oak tree offer each of them? How does the tree inspire each person who comes to see it? Why is the oak so difficult to capture artistically, whether on canvas or on film?
- Discuss the unique bond between Juniper and Joseph. How does Joseph gradually help Juniper find confidence in men? How does education bring this unlikely pair closer? How does Joseph help Juniper see the world differently?
- As Joseph talks to Glory at Lorna’s Christmas party, “It occurred to him that after separating himself from his own family, here was the person he wanted to tell his story to, but the place was too crowded, and besides, it was Christmas” (216). What is it about Glory that attracts Joseph and makes him want to tell her about his past? How is the Christmas party a turning point for Joseph and Glory’s budding relationship?
- For Glory, “Her kitchen was her compass, her true north” (362). How does Glory find comfort in the kitchen? How does cooking bring Glory closer to both Juniper and Joseph?
- Joseph tells Glory, “Sometimes you meet people and you just know you’ve crossed paths for a reason” (255). How does fate bring Joseph, Glory, and Juniper together? Why does their crossing of paths feel like destiny to Joseph and Juniper? Why does Glory have trouble believing in fate?
- Discuss the meaning of family in Solomon’s Oak. Which biological families fall apart in the novel? What nonbiological bonds are forged, and how? How do the characters of Solomon’s Oak manage to redefine what family, marriage, and child-rearing mean?
- Solomon’s Oak takes place in 2003 and 2004. Why might Mapson have chosen to set the novel in these years, rather than in the present day? What connections does Juniper, now an anthropology student, draw between the big events of 2004—earthquakes, extinctions, and bone discoveries—and her personal experiences of that year?
- In an essay on photography, Juniper writes, “It’s about accepting that the picture you end up with will never be the picture you were trying to take” (286). How does this lesson of photography apply to life? What unexpected situations have Juniper, Glory, and Joseph found themselves in by the end of the novel, and how have they come to accept their new lives?
- Spotting Juniper reading a novel, Glory thinks, “there was hope for any kid that read fiction. A willingness to lose one’s self in a story was the first step to learning compassion, to appreciating other cultures, to realizing what possibilities the world held for people who kept at life despite the odds” (76). What can a reader learn from Solomon’s Oak? What possibilities of compassion, cultural appreciation, and personal endurance can be found within this novel?