Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for One Season of Sunshine includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Julia London. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Determined to find a missing piece of her past and her own identity, elementary school teacher Jane Aaron cancels her summer vacation plans and goes to Cedar Springs, Texas to find her birth mother. Asher Price, a wealthy advertising executive whose wife was killed in a car accident two years ago, hires Jane to look after his thirteen-year-old daughter Riley and five-year-old son Levi. Around town, Jane learns that Asher’s late wife had a drinking problem and suffered from bipolar disorder, making life for those around her difficult.
As June turns into July, Jane finds herself growing attached to Riley and Levi and discovers how a woman can come to love children she didn’t give birth to, just as her adoptive mother must have done. She and Asher are falling in love with each other, but he refuses to talk about his late wife, whose presence still fills the house. At summer’s end, Jane goes back home to her teaching job in Houston broken-hearted. But when her mother remembers a clue that takes her back to Cedar Springs, Jane learns more about her birth mother and why she gave Jane up.
1. The book opens with Susanna’s wild ride and her devastating car crash. Discuss the author’s choice of this scene for the prologue. How does Susanna’s rather glorious death inform the rest of the book?
2. Jane is intent on finding her birth mother. Do you agree with her cousin Vickie, that some things are best left unknown?
3. Why does Jane feel the need to uproot her whole life and move to Cedar Springs? What does she feel she needs that can’t be accomplished in phone calls and weekend trips?
4. Jane’s decisions impact those around her, but she doesn’t consider anyone else when she makes her abrupt departures and returns. She also refuses to consider that her birth mother might want to retain her privacy and not be found. Is Jane selfish or just driven?
5. Jane has a fantastic, supportive family, a job, friends, and a great boyfriend. Why does she still feel incomplete? How would you feel in her situation – would you be content with the life you’d built, or would you need to know more about your past to inform your future?
6. Jane puts her life on hold to move to Cedar Springs, but once there, she is very slow to get started on researching her birth mother, and puts off her thesis entirely. Why is she stalling?
7. Do you see anything symbolic about the name of Asher’s house, “Summer’s End”?
8. One Season of Sunshine has a great cast of supporting characters, such as Laru, the small-town busybody who knows everyone; Vickie, Jane’s outspoken cousin; Riley, Asher’s difficult but sweet preteen daughter; and Levi, Asher’s precocious five-year-old son. Who was your favorite, and why?
9. Why does Jane feel such a sense of peace from knowing her birth mother’s name and a tiny amount of her history? Did she find what she was looking for?
10. Jane and Asher both discuss traveling abroad in attempts to “find themselves.” Why do you think it was necessary for them to strike out to an unknown place to do so?
11. Jane says that Susanna helped bring her and Asher together. Do you believe in fate, or was that just a coincidence?
12. Why do you think the author chose the title One Season of Sunshine? What does it mean to you?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Jane’s family bonds over their kitchen table, sharing a family-style meal of Italian dishes. Spend an evening in the kitchen with your book club, then discuss the novel over eggplant parmesan or lasagna.
2. Jane’s adopted family and her search for her birth family are both important parts of her lives. Do you know much about your ancestry? Talk to some older relatives and share stories of your heritage with your book club. How does your past impact your present?
3. Susanna suffered from bipolar disorder. Learn more about this devastating illness to better understand what her, Asher, and their family went through. Check out a website such as http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/bipolar-disorder/DS00356.
4. Both Susanna and Riley are talented artists. Even if you didn’t “inherit the artistic gene,” bring a sketchbook along to your meeting and have fun trying to draw a still life. Or share a talent that does run in your family.
A Conversation with Julia London
One Season of Sunshine is about a woman who goes in search of her biological mother. What made you want to write about adoption?
I wanted to write about self-discovery, because I find that very interesting. Knowing who you are is a lifelong process. But people like me have an advantage—I know my family history and how that has played into who I am today. I got the idea to tackle adoption when I read an article about a woman who was visiting Austin because she had discovered Texas was where she was born. She didn’t know who had given birth to her, she didn’t know anything but that she was born in Texas, and she had come here to soak up the Texas vibe. It was remarkable to me that someone who had no more of a past than that would cling to the smallest detail to glean what she could from it. It seemed to me to be the ultimate self-challenge.
Are any of your characters based on real people?
I think all my characters have bits and pieces of people I have known in them—including a few choice fragments from me—but none of them are based wholly on actual, living people. Most of my friends and family are fairly steady people without a lot of issues to really sink my teeth into.
Jane faces challenges with two kids who are struggling with the loss of their mother. How difficult was that to write?
I think loss is a pretty universal thing, and it doesn’t matter how young or old a person it is; it has such a profound effect on our souls. Writing Riley and Levi was difficult only in that it is sometimes hard for me to write about loss, because it dredges up memories and feeling from my personal losses. But at the same time, we can all relate to it, and like love, it is something that binds us together.
What is your writing process? How long does it take you to write a book like One Season of Sunshine?
It generally takes me about nine months from the point the book is conceived to the point my editor sends it off to be typeset. I find that I am much slower in the beginning of a book. I am thinking of the plot, of the characters and who they are, and where they are going. I often throw out a lot of the writing I start with, because the characters and plot improve as I write. Or perhaps I should say it is my hope they will improve as I write. As for my writing process, there is one truth I have discovered after writing some twenty plus books: Not every book is the same, but the middle of every book is where I really begin to question my choice of vocations. The beginning and end is usually fairly clear to me, but that middle just sucks the life right out of me.
What is your inspiration when you write?
My inspiration comes from so many things it is hard to give credit to one. I find music of all kinds to be a great inspiration. A melody or a lyric can fire my imagination. Exercise is another. Endorphins fuel my thoughts—I tend to work out scenes and dialogue when I am exercising. Reading is also a great inspiration. It’s totally organic, but there is something about absorbing words from a page that help me form my thoughts and ideas. I don’t really understand how that works, but it does.
What is your favorite hobby?
I have a three year old, a husband, and a puppy living in my house. I guess they are my hobby, because they don’t leave much time for anything else. The closest I come to a hobby is running, but I would debate whether or not I could call it a hobby. I think torture is a more appropriate term. I think hobbies should be something one enjoys, and I do not enjoy running. It’s hard and it’s hot in Texas. But as hard as it is, it gets me out of my chair and keeps me challenged. I ran my first 10k race this spring, so I guess some good comes from all things after all.
What do you like to read?
I read so many different types of books. I don’t care for thrillers, and while I do like suspense, it is not usually my first choice. I am a member of a bookclub, and that group has opened my eyes to books I never would have read on my own and some wines I never would have drunk. It’s a great group. I read mostly fiction, but I read some non-fiction, too. If I could read anything at any time, it would probably be a character-driven piece of fiction. For some reason, human dysfunction is as much fun for me to read as it is for me to write.
Are you an indoor or outdoor person? Mountains or beach?
I am definitely an outdoor person. In Texas, you can play outdoors year round. I get restless if I go for too many days without being in sunlight. And I would choose mountains over beach. Water is great, but I prefer hiking and horseback riding and fireplaces to surfing and bike riding and fire pits.