Discussion Guide: The Queen of the Big Time

1. Describe the relationships within the Castelluca family. Do you think families today possess similar values? How does Nella relate to her sisters, in particular Assunta and Elena?

2. When Nella first meets Renato Lanzara, she thinks, “This must be what love at first sight feels like.” Do you think Nella’s first encounter with Renato Lanzara is really love at first sight? What is it about him that is so attractive to her? Do her feelings signify more than simply an adolescent crush?

3. By setting up an arranged marriage between Assunta and Alessandro, Nella’s parents are employing a tradition from their past in Italy. Does this practice gel with their new existence in America? How does Nella’s generation view this arranged marriage? How does Alessandro’s arrival change the dynamics within the Castelluca family? How does Allesandro regard his sisters-in-law?

4. Upon meeting at the Columbus School, Nella and Chettie quickly become friends. How does their relationship compare to those that Nella has with her sisters? What qualities does Chettie have that differ from the Castelluca girls’? How does the quarry accident affect their friendship?

5. In the 1920s, it was rare for a woman to receive admiration and respect in the workplace, especially from a man. What is it about Nella that impresses Mr. Jenkins?

6. How are issues of class and race explored in The Queen of the Big Time? How do you think the Castellucas’ lives would differ if they didn’t live in their transplanted Italian enclave?

7. When tragedy hits, how do the Castellucas deal with change and adjust their roles within the family? How do the ways they rely on one another change?

8. Why isn’t Nella interested in Franco at first? What are the qualities she’s looking for in a man? How do Franco and Renato differ, and why do you think she ends up choosing Franco over someone like Renato?

9. Religion plays a large role in the townspeople of Bari. How big a part does it play in Nella’s life? When does she turn toward her religious values? Did your view of clergy members change after Nella and Renato’s encounter in Italy?

10. In many of her novels, Trigiani has explored the complicated dynamics of the mother-daughter relationship. How would you characterize the relationship between Nella and her mother, compared to that of Nella and Celeste? How does Nella and Celeste’s relationship change as Celeste grows older?

11. Do you think it is possible for one to find true love more than once in a lifetime? How is Nella’s love for Renato different from her love for Franco? Are both loves “true”?

12. In what ways can Nella be considered a “Queen of the Big Time”?