Readers’ Guide for Discussing Linda Gray Sexton’s Works

To share your own responses or those of your reading group, or invite the author to visit your group either in person or with Skype, please speak to Linda using her contact form.


Find Reading Guides Below For:
Bespotted, Half in Love & Searching for Mercy Street


  1. What did you learn about mother-daughter relationships from reading Searching for Mercy Street? Or about the reverse?
  2. Linda says at the end of the book that she forgives her mother. Do you believe it is possible to forgive a parent (or a child) when they have disappointed you so intensely? Does Linda truly forgive her mother, and why?
  3. Did Linda invade her family’s privacy by writing such a candid description of their life together? If yes, was it worth it?
  4. Does all memoir run the risk of compromising the family’s privacy? If so, why write memoir?
  5. Is memoir an important genre? Would you rather read a memoir, or an autobiographical novel?
  6. Linda says she doesn’t view herself as a sexually abused child, but rather that her mother crossed intimate boundaries in inappropriate ways. What is the difference? Is this an evasion by the author?
  7. Did Linda’s family create empathy in the reader as they tried to cope with Anne’s depression and suicide attempts? Did they handle it well? Why or why not?
  8. Did Anne’s family and friends “desert” her at the end of her life by becoming so distant?
  9. Do you feel you have a better grasp of Anne’s life and what it was like to live with such a depressed person after reading Searching for Mercy Street? In what ways did Linda succeed and fail in educating her readers about this?
  10. A lot of Anne’s poetry is quoted throughout the book. If you are new to her poetry, did it make you want to read more? If you have read her before, did the context of the poems here enlighten you?
  11. After reading the book, do you agree or disagree that Linda should have released her mother’s psychiatric tapes to Anne’s biographer?
  12. What did you enjoy about the book most? Least?


  1. What did you learn from Half in Love about suicide and depression?
  2. Was it difficult for you to believe statistics such as one person kills himself every seventeen minutes? Or that homicide is twice as frequent as homicide in the U.S. today?
  3. Have you ever experienced depression? If so, would you describe it in the same way Linda does in Half in Love? Is she on target?
  4. Has anyone is your family ever been depressed and tried, or succeeded, in killing themselves? If so, what was your reaction?
  5. What do you wish you would have done in that situation, or do you feel you did a good job supporting your friend or family member?
  6. How was it handled within the family itself?
  7. Do you feel you could have prevented the suicide attempt?
  8. What emotions did you experience during the aftermath of either the depression or the (attempted or successful) suicide of someone you were close to?
  9. Did you receive any support from the medical community?
  10. In Half in Love, Linda says that she initially received only rejection from her therapist when she first tried to kill herself and only later did she find a therapist who could deal with her wish to die. Do you believe, as she states, that “no one wants to deal with a suicide?”
  11. What do you think about the way Linda’s family (father, sister, husband, children) handled her depression and her suicide attempts? Did you feel empathy with them?
  12. Do you think there is such a thing as a “legacy” of depression or suicide? Is it inevitable that we inherit such a condition regardless of our awareness about the subject?
  13. If you have suicide or depression in the background of your family, what can you do to prevent it from becoming a problem in your own life?
  14. Was Half in Love difficult for you to read? If so, why?
  15. Did you understand Linda and her depression better by the end of the book?
  16. Do you feel Linda invaded her family’s privacy by writing such a candid description of their experiences as well as her own?
  17. Do you believe a writer should even tackle memoir when it involves speaking about the family? Why write memoir instead of a novel where you can disguise and protect the family better?
  18. What did you think of the way she “interviewed” her sister and her children at the end of the book? Does this sort of thing belong in a memoir?
  19. Did she make sufficient “amends” to the people she hurt?
  20. What can we do as a society to enlighten and inform the public so that suicide is not such a “taboo” subject?


  1. How does the author move from the subjects of Half in Love (depression and suicide) to those of Bespotted (laughter, companionship and joy)? Is it a believable, successful transition?
  2. It took Sexton ten years to write Half in Love and only two to write Bespotted. Does the reader understand why? Was there a comprehensible reason for the difference taken in time?
  3. Why didn’t Sexton’s childhood Dalmatians remain a part of her past? What makes it possible for her to draw that positive experience with her, forward into her present and future?
  4. Do you believe that dogs can make a radical difference in our lives? As much as all those Dals did to both Anne and Linda Sexton? Or is she fooling herself about their significance to most people?
  5. Was the scene of Gulliver’s death effective? Did you believe Sexton when she said she grieved over Gulliver more keenly than she had her mother? Was this shocking—and if so, why? Or, why not? Could you imagine yourself feeling the same way?
  6. Sexton maintains in this book that she has found a new and happy equilibrium. Has she proved her point? Can one do this just through the love of a dog?
  7. Were the portraits of the individuals dogs amusing and absorbing or boring and distracting? Why? Were most of them, ultimately, characters you came to know, whether they were minor or major presences?
  8. Did the book intrigue and compel you? How did you feel about its pace?
  9. Do you think these positive aspects of her background and childhood are believable, or is it all just “magical thinking” on her part?
  10. Did you see and feel the themes of regeneration and peace in Bespotted, just as you saw the themes of forgiveness in Searching for Mercy Street and the journey back to health in Half in Love? If so, does it follow from beginning to end in a believable way?
  11. Are Sexton’s regained memories easier or harder to accept than those in the two other memoirs?
  12. Can a memoirist recreate an actual event with verisimilitude, sometimes complete with dialogue—such as the one when the Sexton puppies are born when Linda was only thirteen? Do you believe memoir can be accurate and faithful to some concept of “truth” or “fact,” or is it too subjective a form on which to be depended?