Reader's Group Guide for If I Am Missing or Dead by Janine Latus Introduction
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In a memoir that is by turns harrowing and humorous, Janine Latus recounts both her own and her sister Amy's dealings with men, beginning with their father. From the traumatic childbirth experiences of their mother to the daily reminders from their father that their looks are what matter most, both Janine and Amy take away from their childhood's a sense that, as young women, they are unworthy, even sinful, by nature. In spite of their strength, intelligence, and strong bond with each other, both Janine and Amy find themselves trapped in relationships with abusive and controlling men. Fortunately, Janine is able to escape this cycle. Amy, however, does not. If I Am Missing or Dead
explores issues faced by all women in our society and particularly by those who have experienced physical or emotional abuse. Janine's story vividly illustrates the wide spectrum of abusive behavior and depicts the cycle of self-doubt that can lead smart, attractive women to remain in abusive relationships. If I Am Missing or Dead
is also the story of a woman finding her voice and making sense of her own story: for herself, for her sister, for women everywhere. Questions for Discussion:
1. Why do you think Janine chose to tell her own story alongside Amy's story?
2. Both Amy and Janine have troubled relationships with their bodies. While Amy struggles with her weight, Janine seems to be addicted to exercise and weight loss. How do the sisters' respective difficulties with body image affect their relationships? Where did these problems originate?
3. When she is twelve years old, Janine is attacked and nearly raped by a neighbor, Mr. Johnston. Examine her parents' responses to this event. What messages do these responses send?
4. Janine and Amy's mother undergoes several traumatic experiences associated with childbirth, including losing a child and nearly dying herself. How were these events treated within the Latus household? What lessons does Janine draw from them?
5. "In church I learned: Girls are seductresses, starting with Eve, who got us all kicked out of the Garden of Eden by being weak, by taking a bite from the tree of knowledge, and -- most important -- by enticing poor, innocent Adam to do the same" (29). What role does Janine's religious education play in the development of her self-image? How are her early sexual experiences affected by what she learns in church?
6. Compare Amy's relationships with men to Janine's. What differences do you see? What similarities?
7. If I Am Missing or Dead
depicts many different kinds of abuse. Compare Janine's father's abuse of his wife and children, Michael and Kurt's abuse of Janine, and Ron Ball's abuse of Amy. What is the author's view of these different kinds of abuse? Do you agree?
8. Make a list of the men with whom Janine has sexual encounters and/or relationships, beginning in her early adolescence. What does she learn from each of these encounters? How do they shape the person she becomes?
9. In spite of her difficulties with men, Janine manages to become a successful journalist and ultimately she finds the strength to leave her marriage. What are the sources of strength in Janine's life? Were there positive aspects of her childhood that allowed her to cultivate self-confidence in certain areas? What is different about her personality in comparison to Amy's that shelters this strength?
10. Why is Amy unable to extricate herself from a relationship that she suspects may end with her death?
11. How does Janine and Amy's father affect the way they see themselves as girls, as teenagers, and later as women? Try to recall specific instances of their father's behavior that you think had an impact. Enhance Your Readers' Group
1. Use the Internet to locate and contact a local battered women's shelter or other organization devoted to helping women. Find out whether they accept donations and what they need most. Then, have members of your group collect clothing, food, and/or gently used appliances to donate.
2. Visit www.janinelatus.com and print out some of the author's articles, available on the website, to read as a group.
3. Hold a fundraiser for Amy's Courage Fund (www.amyscourage.org) or another charity devoted to stopping domestic violence. Instead of the usual bake sale, why not host a reading, inviting members of your group and other local writers to share their writing, and ask guests for a small donation?