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©2019 JENNIFER KLEPPER

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Discussion Guide

Questions may include spoilers.

1. Jessica takes on her pro bono position without the social justice passion one might expect to see in a volunteer. Is this admirable or ill-advised? Is there a bad reason for doing volunteer work? 

2. Once Jessica considers herself "all-in" on advocating for Amina, she continues to recognize her own embedded biases, often reflected in the comments of others around her. Should we expect people to shed themselves of their biases completely? Is that possible?

3. Jessica is hesitant to stand up to Danny regarding supporting refugees and respecting Muslims. Why? Should she have been stronger in the face of his opposition?

4. Jessica's book club had some choice opinions about terrorism in America, and yet they were happy to help set Amina up in her new home after they met her. Does this sort of group generosity ring true? Do you think that meeting a person can have a significant effect on one's view of an entire group? Can you think of a time you met a person from a country/race/gender identity/etc. and it changed your thinking or gave you a new perspective of that identity?

5. Discuss the theme of stories being the thread that can connect people across generations and across cultures. How did stories connect Jessica to her own family? How did stories connect Amina and Jessica?

6. What is it about an inanimate object that can connect us to the past or to another person?

7. What do you have that has been passed down through your family that carries a story and a value that only your family can appreciate? How do you honor this and ensure it continues forward?

8. Jessica sees her roles in life changing and then clashing due to conflicting loyalties. Personal growth both causes and results from changing roles. How can we balance our our responsibilities to self, family, community, and humanity? Is it ever right to choose the needs of others (including strangers) over one's responsibility to family?

9. On seeing Amina's strength in the face of her own inadequacies, and seeing her family's needs diminishing, Jessica starts to feel like she's shrinking. Have you ever felt this way? Why? How did you overcome it and find a way to grow?

10. Jessica felt abandoned by her children as they grew more independent. At what point does a child no longer need a parent? How do children's needs change?

11. At the beginning of the book, Conor was full of angst and somewhat adrift. Meeting Amina triggered a sense of purpose in him that pulled him closer to his parents in the process of helping Amina. Thinking about your own teen years or your own teens, discuss the importance of having something that isn't inward-focused. How can we help teens find these opportunities?

12. Jessica worried she was not up to the task for representing Amina. In the end, do you think Amina needed Jessica? Since there is no legal right to an attorney for asylum seekers in the U.S., many go it alone. Would Amina have had a good chance without an attorney?

13. Jessica drew comparisons between the Holocaust and what was happening with Syria. The Holocaust Museum has an exhibit (not discussed in Unbroken Threads) that highlights genocides currently happening around the world. Why do some humanitarian crises get different attention than others?

14. Did Jessica's ultimate decision about her future surprise you? Were you disappointed in it, or were you happy for her?

Further Reading

For additional reading on Syria, in both fiction and non-fiction, here are some good places to start.

Alia Malek, The Home That Was Our Country: A Memoir of Syria

Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar, The Map of Salt and Stars

Samar Yazbek, The Crossing: My Journey to the Shattered Heart of Syria

Wendy Pearlman, We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria 

Additional resources

The documentary "This Is Home" follows four Syrian families during their first 8 months in Baltimore, Maryland, after being allowed entry as refugees.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's efforts to educate the public about genocide include resources about Syria at its website

The International Rescue Committee is a non-profit that helps people around the world affected by conflict and disaster. They are significantly involved with Syrian refugees.

The Mera Kitchen Collective in Baltimore is a food-based organization that hosts pop-up events, catering, and cooking classes to empower refugee and immigrant women in Baltimore.