This reading group guide for One of Us includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. 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.
From New York Times bestselling author Tawni O’Dell comes a fast-paced thriller where a forensic psychologist is forced to face his own demons when he returns to his childhood home of Lost Creek to find the community terrorized by a serial killer.
Dr. Sheridan Doyle is the go-to shrink for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office whenever a twisted killer’s mind eludes other experts. But beneath is accomplished exterior, he’s still Danny Doyle, the awkward, bullied boy from a blue-collar mining family, haunted by a past marked by tragedy.
When Danny returns to Lost Creek, his hometown, he comes face to face with the town’s legacy of violence when a dead body is discovered at the famous gallows where the Nellie O’Neills, band of rebellious Irish miners were executed one hundred years prior. The body also has an eerie connection to the wealthy mining family behind the deaths of the Nellie O’Neills. When Danny teams up with veteran detective Rafe to get to the bottom of the crimes, he realizes he’s coming dangerously close to uncovering secrets of his own past.
In this masterfully told psychological thriller, the past and the present collide to put Lost Creek’s long-lived ghosts to bed.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
- Why do you think O’Dell chose to call her novel One of Us? Who does the “us” in the title of the novel refer to? Discuss the importance of allegiances in Lost Creek. How do those allegiances play out throughout <i”>One of Us?
- Of the Nellie O’Neills, Danny says “it was impossible to live in Lost Creek and not know something about them even as a young child.” (p. 4) What is the story of the Nellie O’Neills? Do you think that they were correct in their actions and the reasons behind them? How does their story affect the citizens of Lost Creek?
- Max tells Danny that he was inspired by Danny’s writing, particularly the quote “What lies in our power to do, list in our power not to do.” (p. 19). Discuss the quote. Where did it initially appear? How does this advice apply to Max’s life and to Danny’s own? What actions does Danny take that ultimately change his life?
- Although Danny has achieved success as Sheridan Doyle, almost everyone in Lost Creek still refers to him as Danny. What does each name indicate both the people who refer to Danny as such and about Danny himself? Discuss the importance of names throughout One of Us.
- Danny first encounters Rafe as a young boy, on the day that his mother is being arrested and “for the first time in my young life I felt I could be honest.” (p. 35). Why does Danny feel safe and able to speak truthfully in Rafe’s presence? Later Danny calls Rafe “A man I admired but didn’t envy. A man I wanted to mimic but didn’t want to be.” (p. 75). Discuss their relationship. What lessons has Rafe taught Danny? How do the two men relate to each other as adults
- After her encounter with Marcella Greger, Scarlet says “I probably could have trusted her to keep her mouth shut. That’s not the point. I didn’t like the idea of her knowing.” (p. 105) Do you believe Scarlet? Why do you think she acted in the way she did with Marcella? What were your initial impressions of Scarlet? Did they change throughout One of Us? If so, how? Were you surprised by her secret? Why or why not?
- Who is Carson Shupe? Why does Danny maintain a relationship with him, visiting him in jail and planning to attend Carson’s execution? When Carson asks Danny, “Do you think I deserve this?” (p. 271) about his impending execution, were you surprised by Danny’s response? Why or why not? How does Carson’s crime serve as a counterpoint to the other crimes in One of Us?
- In recounting her reaction to seeing the effects of the mine explosion, Scarlet says, “What I saw bothered me but I didn’t feel bad . . . I didn’t feel in any way responsible for what I was seeing or that my father was responsible either. I sensed something wasn’t fair, but injustice without a defined villain is only bad luck.” (p. 83) Do you think Anna was right to take Scarlet to see how the citizens of Lost Creek were reacting to the tragedy? Do you agree with Scarlet’s assessment that, without villains, injustice is simply bad luck? Are there villains in One of Us? Who are they?
- Danny says that, as a child, he let Tommy believe that his nightmares were about his mother and his sister “because I could never reveal to him what they were really about. They were shameful. I was afraid of the mines.” (p. 55) Why is Danny ashamed of his fear? Does he ever overcome his fear? If so, how? What’s Tommy’s reaction when Danny does admit to being afraid of the mines?
- Describe Danny’s first meeting with Scarlet. Why do you think that the encounter induces a panic attack for Danny? Does their initial meeting foreshadow their final one? If so, how?
- When Gwendolyn Dawes and Arlene Doyle meet, Danny describes them as “a wild rose and a hothouse orchid who have both managed to survive in the same scorched earth.” (p. 291) Describe both of the women. Is Danny’s description of both accurate? Why does Danny believe that his mother is “better equipped to deal with the inconceivable than the rest of us” (p. 284)? Were you surprised to learn the truth of Molly’s disappearance and how it related to both of the women?
- When Scarlet asks Danny how he feels about his mother, his response is “I love her.” Scarlet says, “I’m stunned. I expected so much better from him, yet at at the same time, I realize this means he fully understands the rules of the game.” (p. 201). Why is Scarlet stunned by Danny’s response? What does this show about Scarlet? Do you think she’s misread the situation when she says Danny “fully understands the rules of the game”? If so, how?
- In the mine, Rick tells Danny, “Your problem is you think too much.” (p. 237) Do you agree? How do Rick’s works cause Danny to rethink his mother’s actions? Do you agree with Rick that Arlene Doyle is a strong woman? Why or why not?
- When Danny returns to Lost Creek and sees Tommy, he says “My dejection lifts as I realize wanting to lay eyes on [Tommy] again isn’t the only reason I needed to come home.” (p. 53) What other reasons does Danny have for needing to come home? Do you think his trip was successful?
- Of his time in Vietnam, Rafe says “It may have been the worst thing that would ever happen to me, but it was also the most significant.” (p. 247) What does he mean? How was he changed by his time in Vietnam? What do you think that the most significant thing to happy to Danny has been? Why?
Enhance Your Book Club
- After one of Tommy’s stories, Danny asks him what the point of the story was, to which he replies, “Does there have to be a point?” (p. 225) Do you think that there has to be a point to a story? Discuss what you look for in a book when you read with the other members of your book club, taking care to consider how your book club selections, including One of Us, have measured up to your criteria.
- Of his hometown, Danny says, “The history of the entire region is summer up in a glance: Man ruins Nature; Nature ruins Man.” (p. 23) Read about the history of the mining industry and discuss the statement. How is it particularly true in Lost Creek?
- One of Us has drawn comparisons to Gone Girl. Read both books, then, compare and contrast them in your book club. In what ways are Scarlet and Amy alike? How do they differ?