A profoundly moving novel about two neighboring families in a suburban town, the friendship between their children, a tragedy that reverberates over four decades, and the power of forgiveness.
Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope are two NYPD rookies assigned to the same Bronx precinct in 1973. They aren’t close friends on the job, but end up living next door to each other outside the city. What goes on behind closed doors in both houses—the loneliness of Francis’s wife, Lena, and the instability of Brian’s wife, Anne, sets the stage for the stunning events to come.
Ask Again, Yes by award-winning author Mary Beth Keane, is a beautifully moving exploration of the friendship and love that blossoms between Francis’s youngest daughter, Kate, and Brian’s son, Peter, who are born six months apart. In the spring of Kate and Peter’s eighth grade year a violent event divides the neighbors, the Stanhopes are forced to move away, and the children are forbidden to have any further contact.
But Kate and Peter find a way back to each other, and their relationship is tested by the echoes from their past. Ask Again, Yes reveals how the events of childhood look different when reexamined from the distance of adulthood—villains lose their menace, and those who appeared innocent seem less so. Kate and Peter’s love story is marked by tenderness, generosity, and grace.
“I devoured this astonishing tale of two families linked by chance, love, and tragedy. Mary Beth Keane gives us characters so complex and alive that I find myself still thinking of them days after turning the final page. A must-read.” —J. Courtney Sullivan, author of Saints for All Occasions
“Mary Beth Keane is at the height of her powers in this novel about the sacrifices we make when we choose to build a life with someone. In Ask Again, Yes Keane tells a story about the fragility of happiness, the violence lurking beneath everyday life, and, ultimately, the power of love. If you’ve ever loved someone beyond reason, you will love this wise, tender, and beautiful book.” —Eleanor Henderson, author of Ten Thousand Saints
This reading group guide for Ask Again, Yesincludes an introduction and discussion questions. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
A profoundly moving story about two neighboring families in a suburban town, Ask Again, Yes is a multigenerational portrait of love marked by loss, loyalty, and grace.
When Kate Gleeson and Peter Stanhope are in eighth grade, a violent event divides their families. The children are forbidden from having any further contact, but Kate and Peter find a way back to each other. Ask Again, Yes reveals how echoes from the past test relationships and how the events of childhood look different when reexamined from the distance of adulthood.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Ask Again, Yes grapples with the idea of learning from the past. What lessons do Kate and Peter learn from their parents’ experiences? What mistakes did they repeat?
2. Do Francis Gleeson and Anne Stanhope—both Irish immigrants—experience things differently than their American-born spouses? Do you think this contributes to tensions within the couples, and between the two families?
3. Ask Again, Yes is set over the course of four decades. How do attitudes toward mental health and addiction change over that time? How do these changes affect the characters? For example, how do Brian and George Stanhope differ in their attitudes toward drinking?
4. Francis marvels at how many pieces had to come together for a woman like Lena to exist and for him to have met her (page 7). What role do you think fate plays in this novel? Do the characters have free will to make their own choices? Why or why not?
5. When Kate learns about the episode at Food King, she momentarily thinks that it couldn’t have been as dramatic as Peter was making it out to be. Then she realizes that it was, in fact, the opposite, “that it was such a big deal that the adults had been careful not to talk about it in front of the kids” (page 85). What role does keeping secrets—from children, parents, partners—play throughout the novel? Do you think certain events could have been avoided if the characters had been more open with each other?
6. The idea of inherited traits and characteristics appears frequently in the novel. Trauma is another thing that is passed down from generation to generation. Do Kate and Peter address the legacy of trauma they’ve inherited from their parents?
7. Redemption is an important theme throughout Ask Again, Yes. Discuss the many ways in which the characters forgive each other.
8. The novel is divided into four parts. Discuss the significance of each of the part titles—“Gillam,” “Queens,” “Two by Two,” and “Muster.” Why do you think Mary Beth Keane chose to structure the story this way?
9. At the end of the book, Francis thinks, “It was always the same. People didn’t change” (page 385). Do you think he really believes this?
10. What does the book’s title, Ask Again, Yes, mean to you?
11. This novel is specific to these two families, yet it also feels universal in its themes. Do you see echoes of your family’s history in the Gleesons or the Stanhopes?
Mary Beth Keane attended Barnard College and the University of Virginia, where she received an MFA. She has been named one of the National Book Foundation’s “5 under 35,” and was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship for fiction writing. She currently lives in Pearl River, New York with her husband and their two sons. She is also the author of The Walking People, Fever, and Ask Again, Yes.