Mallory doesn't fit in. Growing up in the small town of Kenwick, Ontario during the late 1960s, Mallory gets taunted for looking like a boy, ostracized for her almost freakish intelligence, and can’t even get comfortable in her own skin.
Making matters worse, Mallory's parents have no comprehension of how intellectually gifted their intense 14-year-old daughter is and her brother Victor is drifting further and further into mental illness. When Mallory falls in with a group of troubled kids at school, the guidance counsellor tells her parents she needs psychiatric help.
Eventually, Mallory's friends fall under the spell of a powerfully charismatic minister named Reverend Randolph Fletcher; a man whose spiritual ideals have gone off the rails. Mallory's involvement in the group will lead her down a path she never thought she'd follow, and will force her to face an ultimate test of her moral courage, while self-perceived forces of darkness and light vie for control of her soul.
"With humour, compassion and some fine writing, Margaret Gunning gets inside the skin of Mallory, a genius and a misfit who inhabits the raw, explosive teenage world, just under the adult radar screen, where disaster is only one misstep away."
—Sylvia Fraser, author of The Green Labyrinth
Suggestedd Book Club Questions for Mallory
- How does Mallory learn to survive as a social outcast in school and an outsider in her own family?
- Why does Mallory hurt herself, and what purposes might this habit serve?
- What is the significance of sexuality in the novel? How do males and females differ in their attitudes towards it?
- Discuss the various forms of power that are highlighted in the novel (social, sexual, intellectual, spiritual) and how they are used and misused by the various characters.
- What resources does Mallory draw upon to cope with her captivity and eventually attain her freedom?
- Discuss the role spirituality plays in Mallory's life.
- Before she found out about Annie's pregnancy, what were Mallory's feelings toward the Rev? Was she starting to fall under his spell, and if not, why was she continuing to go to his meetings?
- Did Mallory really want to be accepted at school and at home, or did she sometimes relish her "outcast" role? If so, what needs were being fulfilled by this role?
- What attracted Mallory to Cal, and then to Simon? Discuss the differences between them, and the different desires they stirred in Mallory.
- Discuss Mallory's relationship with Mr. Livingston. Who was the student and who was the pupil? Why did Mallory arouse him so much, and why did she want his approval? Who had the most power in the relationship?
- If Mallory were one of your schoolmates, would she be someone you would want to know? What would it be like to try to befriend her?
- Imagine the present-day Mallory (now 51) walking into the room and taking part in the discussion. What would she look like, what sort of opinions would she have, what would her personal life be like, and what would be her passions and interests? Would she have fulfilled her ambition to be a published writer, and if so, what kind of books would she be writing?
Margaret Gunning has written weekly columns for the Victoria Times-Colonist, Vancouver Sun, Edmonton Journal, Montreal Gazette, and The Globe and Mail. She has reviewed hundreds of books, and has been a contributing editor for January Magazine (januarymagazine.com) for four years.
Her poems have appeared in a number of literary magazines, including PRISM international and Capilano Review.