Book group questions for The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness



  1. Nina Popkin was raised by a perfectly lovely couple who adored her so much they considered her their own gift from the universe. Yet Nina has spent her whole life longing to find the mother who gave her up for adoption, and feeling guilty for looking into strangers’ faces and wondering if they have some connection to her. Have you been affected by adoption? Do you think that people who were adopted should have the right to contact their birth parents and have information, or do birth parents need protection from being found?


  1. When Nina finds that she has a biological sister, she can’t believe her good fortune: someone with whom she shares actual DNA, and someone to join the search for their biological mother. But Lindy says she’s not interested in finding out anything about their mother. Did you believe her? What are the factors that might have led her to feel this way?


  1. Nina says she’s great at falling in love and also great at breaking up and quickly getting over people once the relationship ends. Yet at the beginning of the book, she keeps texting her ex-husband and seemed blindsided by his departure. Why do you think that breakup might have been harder than the others?


  1. Lindy and her husband seem to have the perfect life: a great house, three beautiful children, and thriving careers. Yet Lindy seems anxious and worried most of the time and is accused of being a “control freak.” What do you think was going on below the surface of their lives, for both of them?


  1. The girls think that they were given up for adoption because they were unloved and unlovable. How do their views on this change as the book goes on? Does the reality, when they discover it, change their minds about who they are?


  1. There are several examples of mothers in this book: Nina’s adoptive mother; Lindy; Lindy’s mother; Phoebe; Melanie after she gives birth; Jane; and finally Nina herself, as both a stepmother and a new mom. There are even the Brooklyn moms Phoebe encounters in her role as a piano teacher. What does the book end up saying about mothering and nurturing? Does it come to any conclusion?


  1. The characters in this book go through a lot of loss in their lives. Phoebe has lost her boyfriend and then her children; Nina has lost not only her birth mother but also her adoptive mother and her husband; and Carter has lost his marriage. How do their different ways of coping serve and not serve them?


  1. Family is central to all the characters in The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness. How important is the idea of family in your life? Can we truly re-create our own families through the friends we associate with and draw into our lives, or do you think most of us need that sense of belonging to a specific tribe, knowing our roots in order to be happy?


  1. What do you think of Phoebe? Was she a sympathetic character, even though she gave up two children for adoption? Do you end up thinking of her as brave and spunky for the life she created for herself, or are we left seeing her as damaged and rightfully punished for the bad decisions of her youth?


  1. Carter’s parenting style disturbs Nina more and more as time goes on. She starts to feel that he is blind to the real troubles his children get into, while he claims that he doesn’t want to push them away by punishing them for every little thing. Who did you side with? Is Nina naïve about teenagers because she has had so little experience, or was Carter negligent?


  1. By the end of the book, Nina has a very different view of the value of family than she did at the beginning. How has her understanding expanded, and what do you see happening to her in the future?


  1. Do you think the two sisters will ever have a satisfying relationship with their birth mother?