A story of faith, Fireweed presents the age-old questions “Why doesn’t God fix what happened? Why didn’t God prevent this in the first place? What role does God play in our lives?” As they live each day, Steve and Renée deal with these questions. Fireweed will engender much discussion in your book club or study group. Below you will find questions to guide that discussion.
Study Questions for Book Clubs
In order to facilitate discussion by your bookclub, you will find questions below.
- Review why the author, Janet Stobie chose Fireweed as the title. Did you find moments of encountering the “Fireweed” in the story? Have you had “Fireweed” moments in your life?
- Fireweed is a “Christian” novel. Name one example of your understanding of “Christian Faith” you found in this story.
- How is Renee similar and/or different from the teens that you have experienced?
- Fireweed is more than a mystery story. Underneath the mystery, Fireweed introduces several current social issues.
- Grief – Have you used any of the strategies that Janet Stobie suggests?
- Interfaith Dialogue – The teens in the story see interfaith dialogue as one step towards peace. Janet Stobie begins this dialogue with “respect” for other faiths. Does your understanding of Christianity lead you to this “respect”?
- Forgiveness – What does Fireweed say to you about forgiveness?
- When we read a story, we tend to identify with at least one of the characters. Which character in the story felt most real for you?
- The story is told from two viewpoints – Renee’s and Steve’s. How was this helpful for you? Did the two viewpoints present any difficulties for you?
- Janet Stobie has included two events in the church’s life, the Advent Decorating Potluck and the Tinsel and Tears Service. What did you learn from reading about these events?
- What will you remember most from Fireweed?
(Note: This is a scene from the second chapter of the book. Renee’s Mom, Serena, has been killed by a drunk driver. We have already learned that Serena made her special chocolate sauce to give away as gifts, especially at Christmas. At this point in the story, Renee’s dad has asked her to go to the attic to get jars so that the two of them can make Serena’s chocolate sauce again this Christmas.)
Taking a deep breath, I forced my reluctant feet to climb the stairs. As I reached out for the attic doorknob, I shouted into the empty stairwell, “I can’t do it. I can’t pretend I’m okay any longer.”
Only the relentless slap, scratch, scratch of the branches answered me.
I bit my lip hard in an effort to gain control. The pain and the salty taste of blood only added to my misery. I crumpled onto the landing. “Oh God, why … why did she have to …?”
Once again, that awful night six long months ago replayed in my mind. As always, the scene faded with Constable Filmore’s words, “She died instantly. She didn’t have a chance.”
“Please fix it, God,” I pleaded. “I’m only fifteen. I need my mom.”
Curled up in a ball, I rocked back and forth, seeking comfort from the motion. In time, my sobs slowed. I regained control. Enough, I thought. I’ll get those jars, but I won’t help make the sauce. I won’t replace Mom. I can’t.
Gathering my courage, I scrambled to my feet and gave the doorknob a fierce yank. Creeeeak. Cold, dank air flooded all around me. I shivered.
Where are those boxes? They should be right here beside the door. My foot made a wide arc in the darkness, touching nothing but bare floor. I took several steps forward.
What was that? I flailed my arms in search of the string to turn on the light.
Calm down, Renée, my inner voice ordered. It’s probably just a squirrel. Take a deep breath and relax!
Standing rigid, I sucked air in through my nose and then let it out slowly, the way I had been taught in yoga class. The panic began to subside.
Once again, I reached out for the old string. This time I felt it brush my fingers. Slowly, I brought my hand back, grasped the string, and pulled. One bare bulb, hanging high in the rafters, spread an eerie light over the attic’s chaos. Cartons, bits of old furniture, and other junk, everything coated with years of dust, formed a barrier in front of me.
With light, curiosity replaced my fear. Forgetting the jars, I pushed furniture and boxes aside, searching for the intruder. Near the far corner, my eyes lit on Grandma’s Tibetan trunk. I fell on my knees in front of it.
“Grandma,” I whispered. Memories of Grandma and her stories rolled through my mind as my fingers traced the outline of a dragon peering through the grime of neglect.
A whimper penetrated the stillness of the moment…
Fireweed’s Birth Story
One very cold winter morning, I woke up with a story rolling in my mind. Even before I started my morning prayer time, I needed to get it written down. The words tumbled from my fingertips. A troubled young girl sat on the attic stairs feeling lost and alone. “Why did my mother have to die? You should have saved her God. Didn’t you know I need her?” After five pages, I stopped to rest and pray.
“What is this, God?” I asked. I reread what I had written. Tears poured down my cheeks. Every day that week, I added a few more pages. Then, my life got busy. I had my columns to finish for the paper and a sermon to complete.
Time passed. A month later, I added a few more pages. That became the rhythm. Write a bit and leave it. Eventually, I realized that I was writing a novel and had better learn how. I took some courses and participated in some workshops and kept writing. When Tom and I journeyed to Tennessee, I used the travel time in the car to add a multitude of chapters. Coming home, I congratulated myself on having a novel two thirds written. We stopped at my sister’s in Blenheim. While we were sleeping, someone broke into our truck and stole my computer. Frustration turned to grief when I realized that I hadn’t backed up all of the writing I had done on the journey.
In the end the first draft took nearly three years. After much rewriting, I sent my precious manuscript to a professional editor. With her help, I made more changes. Finally, Fireweed, was completed. It was the best I could make it.
I believe that God wanted this story to be written. In my prayers, I call it our book, because God has certainly helped me every step of the way.