Spoiler alert: If you haven’t read the book yet, you may not want to read on.
1. Bartholomew becomes somewhat obsessed with Jung and synchronicity. Two events linked not by causes but by meaning to a certain individual—we often call this coincidence. What is the most memorable coincidence you have personally experienced? Did it challenge or reinforce your personal beliefs? How so?
2. The little man in Bartholomew’s stomach often calls him a ‘retard.’ Others have called him similar names in the past. In your opinion, is Bartholomew mentally challenged? What are his strengths and weaknesses?
3. At the end of chapter seven, Bartholomew’s mother says, “…most people don’t measure intelligence the right way.” Do you agree or disagree? Why?
4. How do Bartholomew’s inherited religious views (Catholicism and his mother’s ‘Good Luck’ theory) help him? How do these worldviews limit him? Compare these views to Max’s belief in aliens.
5. Is Father McNamee a good priest? Is he a good person? Defend your point of view.
6. Compare Wendy and Elizabeth. What do they have in common? How are they different? Who is better suited to help Bartholomew? Why?
7. At the end of Chapter 10 Bartholomew quotes the Dalai Lama. “Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.” Which characters do this? How does it affect their lives?
8. Why does Max say ‘fuck’ so much? Did his repetitive use of the word make you laugh, did it frustrate you, or did it have no effect on you whatsoever? What does your answer to that last question say about you?
9. How does Bartholomew save Elizabeth? What exactly does he do? Why does his involvement make a difference? Is he a hero? Why or why not?
10. Discuss Richard Gere’s role in the story. Serendipity links Gere to our protagonist, but the Pretty Woman lead (or Bartholomew’s fictional version of him) turns out to be—in so many ways—the perfect mentor for our protagonist. If you had to research a celebrity and write him/her intimate letters, who would it be? Why? What would you hope to learn?
11. In the last chapter, Max gives an impassioned speech about Cat Parliament. Bartholomew and Elizabeth allow Max to watch the cats for a long time afterward, even though he looks odd amongst the children. When was the last time you gave yourself permission to fully enjoy an experience that others might label foolish or odd? Have you ever risked your reputation to allow a loved one access to beauty or joy? Was it worth it?
12. What can we learn from Bartholomew Neil?
(More discussion questions can be found here: HarperCollins.)