Reading Group Guide: The Half Brother


  1. Who is the most important “half brother” in this book? Who are all the different half-siblings? What impact do these identities have on them? What could the idea of a half-brother signify?
  1. How does Charlie define himself in relation to Nick? Would Charlie’s conception of himself be different if he didn’t have Nicky as a foil?
  1. What is the significance of Charlie’s house to him? How does he feel about it in relation to the other places he’s lived—the guesthouse with Anita, the big house with Hugh? What is it about the house that attracts him so much—and what about the view of the mountains saves his sanity, as he puts it? Do you have a place that nourishes you in the same way? What are your emotional memories of your different homes?
  1. What do you think of Charlie’s decision not to tell May the truth, as soon as he learns it? Do you understand his motivation? Are there instances in your past, or in your family’s past, of secrets kept? What effects did keeping those secrets have? Did the secrets ever come to light, and what were the consequences?
  1. Who are the different father figures in Charlie’s life? What are the different things they have given him?
  1. What are some of the other mirrorings and halves? For instance, how is Nick similar to, or the opposite of, Zack? What about May and Celia, and Divya and Anita? Do these strike you as legitimate pairings? Do you think they were deliberate on the part of the author?
  1. There are several mixed-race families in the book. Is that identity important to their members, and if so how? How does racial identity relate to other ways of framing identity for the characters in the book?
  1. Do you have a favorite memory of a teacher? Which teachers had an impact on you that you can feel today? Did any teacher awaken you to a subject, or a book, you hadn’t previously loved?
    Here is the second epigraph: I learned to walk into a classroom wondering what I would say, rather than knowing what I would say. Then I learned by hearing myself speak; the source of my speaking was our mysterious harmony with truths we know, though very often our knowledge of them is hidden from us. — Andre Dubus            What do you think of the phrase “our mysterious harmony with the truths we know”? It could be taken in a literal sense (e.g. Charlie senses his mother is not being honest about Jimmie Garrett). But it could also be another name for instinct, intuition, or wisdom. What do you think Charlie would think of this idea?
  1. Do any of the characters attain what you would call wisdom? How and why, or why not?
  1. How do you think Nicky’s students will remember him, and the circumstances of his scandalous disappearance?
  1. What are all the ways the labyrinth is meaningful to Charlie? Carl Jung wrote, “There is no linear evolution; there is only a circumambulation of the self.” Have you ever walked a labyrinth?
  1. What sort of future do you envision for Charlie and May? What do you think of their status at the end of the book?