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A Quiet Life
Table of Contents
About The Book
From the author of A Little Hope—a Read with Jenna Bonus Pick—comes an enormously powerful and life-affirming novel about three individuals whose lives intersect in unforeseen ways.
Set in a close-knit Pennsylvania suburb in the grip of winter, A Quiet Life follows three people grappling with loss and finding a tender wisdom in their grief.
Chuck Ayers used to look forward to nothing so much as his annual trip to Hilton Head with his wife, Cat—that yearly taste of relaxation they’d become accustomed to in retirement, after a lifetime of working and raising two children. Now, just months after Cat’s death, Chuck finds that he can’t let go of her things—her favorite towel, the sketchbooks in her desk drawer—as he struggles to pack for a trip he can’t imagine taking without her.
Ella Burke delivers morning newspapers and works at a bridal shop to fill her days while she anxiously awaits news—any piece of information—about her missing daughter. Ella adjusts to life in a new apartment and answers every call on her phone, hoping her daughter will reach out one day.
After the sudden death of her father, Kirsten Bonato set aside her veterinary school aspirations, finding comfort in the steady routine of working at an animal shelter. But as time passes, old dreams and new romantic interests begin to surface—and Kirsten finds herself at another crossroads.
In this beautifully crafted and profoundly moving novel, three parallel narratives converge in poignant and unexpected ways, as each character bravely presses onward, trying to recover something they have lost. Emotionally riveting and infused with hope, A Quiet Life celebrates humanity in the midst of uncertainty.
Reading Group Guide
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Chuck Ayers can’t decide if he should make the annual trip to Hilton Head without his late wife, Cat. Ella Burke works two jobs to make ends meet and fill the hours while she waits for news about her missing daughter. Kirsten Bonato put her aspirations for veterinary school aside after her father’s sudden death and finds comfort working at an animal shelter.
These three individuals’ stories intersect in surprising and heart-warming ways as each person discovers how to move forward with their lives. A Quiet Life is a tender, emotionally powerful novel that explores how grief can push us toward unexpected new experiences and connections.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. While replaying through his long relationship with his late wife, Cat, Chuck feels “as if he’s in a supermarket of guilt, and his cart’s overflowing” (chapter one). Several other characters also express similar remorse over lost loved ones. How does guilt function throughout the novel?
2. In her daughter Riley’s absence, Ella can’t help picturing her everywhere she goes. “She imagines going to the market and making a French picnic for Riley” (chapter two). What is it about someone’s absence that makes their presence loom larger? Who else experiences this in the book?
3. Natasha and Cat’s friendship made Chuck nervous and even jealous at times. What was it about their connection that sparked his reaction? Compare this to Grayson’s lack of jealousy when Kirsten opens up to him. Discuss why these characters react so differently in their respective situations.
4. Kirsten essentially put her life on hold after her father’s sudden death and “feels like she’s waiting for a sign” to restart it (chapter four). How often do people rely on “signs” to make life decisions? Why might that be? Do you find yourself waiting for signals in your own life?
5. Both Kirsten and Ella had traumatic experiences losing family members, and Chuck experienced trauma as a soldier in Vietnam. How does trauma display itself throughout the novel?
6. Kirsten has chemistry with both David and Grayson. She can even imagine what a future would look like with each of them. What did you make of this love triangle? Were you rooting for one outcome over another?
7. Ella’s husband betrays her trust. Chuck feared that Natasha might swindle him and Cat if they let her stay with them. How do people respond to betrayal throughout the novel?
8. A Quiet Life is about both small and huge acts of kindness. When was the last act of kindness you performed, witnessed, or experienced?
9. David’s struggle with his ex-wife over their kids mirrors Ella’s custody tensions with her husband, Kyle. What do we gain as readers by juxtaposing these dynamics?
10. Kirsten and David open up to each other about their personal experiences with loss, which is a cathartic conversation for both of them. How can sharing feelings of grief improve one’s mental health and relationships?
11. While Kirsten and Chuck are both dealing with permanent losses, Ella’s missing daughter has the potential to come back into her life. What effect does this comparison have on the overall story that’s being told?
12. Kirsten and Chuck both try to gain closure by searching out emblems of the past, but neither situation goes exactly as expected. Talk about closure and why the characters feel the need for it.
13. Discuss the shift from Kirsten’s thought that “loss is everywhere” in chapter twenty-eight to “love everywhere. . . . And life has this possibility of deeper love, always around the corner” in chapter thirty-three. How does the novel build to this uplifting conclusion? How might we adopt this into our own lives?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Visit your local animal shelter! If you’re interested, ask if it’s possible to volunteer.
2. Purchase a sketchbook and carry it with you, sketching when inspiration strikes, like Cat.
3. Read Ethan Joella’s first novel, A Little Hope, and discuss the ongoing themes and also how the two books differ.
- Publisher: Scribner (November 29, 2022)
- Length: 304 pages
- ISBN13: 9781982190972
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Raves and Reviews
Praise for A Quiet Life
"Community and grief are at the center of this tender novel in which three residents of a tightly knit Pennsylvania suburb are each grappling with losing loved ones when their lives begin to converge in unexpected ways." —The New York Times Book Review
"Joella develops his characters with enormous empathy... The pleasure of discovering connections is one of the most basic joys of reading and is key to Joella's storytelling.... The soothing tone and warm worldview of this grown-up bedtime story will be good for what ails you." —Kirkus
"Heartwarming, character-driven charm. Empathetic without becoming saccharine, A Quiet Life highlights the power of closure and the importance of a connected, compassionate community.” —Booklist
"A Quiet Life is filled with people I’d like to meet. Ethan Joella’s latest novel reminds us that life is made of journeys, not only destinations. Read this one slowly; you’ll want to savor the details." —Charmaine Wilkerson, author of Black Cake
"A Quiet Life shines with the courage and heart of its characters. Through elegant prose, this powerful book reminds us that in grief and loss we stand united in the love, resilience, and connection that define our humanity. Readers will emerge from these intersecting stories transformed, hopeful, and inspired." —Qian Julie Wang, author of Beautiful Country
“I adored A Quiet Life. Soft as silk, powerful as a punch, Ethan Joella doesn't shirk from the trauma of grief but delivers real hope in our capacity to survive. A beautifully written page-turner like this one is hard to find." —Nikki May, author of Wahala
"A Quiet Life is about the transformative power of connection if we are willing to risk opening our hearts. Joella’s characters help each other shoulder the burden of grief and unearth the shards of beauty to be found in the wreckage of loss. There is magic at the intersection of these stories, a rare and addicting alchemy of ordinary moments and choices that add up to whole, brave, flawed, joyful lives. This novel insists on our essential strength, resilience, and empathy in an age of isolation." —Katie Runde, author of The Shore
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