Discussion Guide: Fire Along the Sky

1. The arrival of Rev. Stiles causes an upheaval in Paradise. What did the author mean by making him visibly different–an albino–from the others in town? How did he embody some of the darker impulses, and prejudices, already present in this small enclave? How did he foment discord?

2. Discuss the importance of Dr. Richard Todd’s life, and his painful death. How was his life shaped by his many losses? By his wealth? How is he both villain and hero? This duality in a character is found throughout American literature. Discuss other characters that embody both noble and vile impulses like Todd. Why is this tradition so strong in American literature?

3. How does Lily’s artistic talent transcend both her education and her age/experience? What did she learn from Gabriel Oak? How is her talent both a gift and a burden for her in this time and place?

4. Discuss the significance of the War of 1812. A relatively short and little studied war it had major impact on land, resources, political control and the future of the settlers. Do you think this War was important enough to change the course of history? Why or why not? Discuss its importance to New York State and Canada. Why was this war so important to the English and French?

5. War factors in this novel, and fighting in the entire series. How does the need to conquer factor into the lives of these earlier Americans? What positive outcomes are there for the warriors or the country? What negative?

6. The northern and northwestern part of New York State was the nation’s untamed frontier in the late 18th and early 19th Century, the era of the Wilderness series. How does this frontier experience differ from that of the traditional western or “wagons west” description of America’s wilder places? How is it the same? Why was the settlement of upper New York State significant to people in Canada? To England? To France? To Holland?

7. Why is settlement by Europeans significant to the Native Peoples–and how do settlers like the Bonner family and others in the town of Paradise both complement and conflict with them? What roles do the slaves and the freed slaves, serve?

8. Discuss the Freeman family’s activities in aiding runaway slaves’ flight to freedom. Do you think they helped these people, or contributed to setting the stage for continuing and future conflict for them? What role did the African Free School, and Manny Freeman’s association with it, play in the abolition of slavery? Do you think the Gradual Manumission Act was devised in a fair manner?

9. Most of the characters in this book have dealt with loss. How have these losses shaped the characters’ weaknesses and strengths?

10. Author Donati uses wonderful place and character names drawn from the Native Language. Discuss the symbolism of the characters’ names (i.e. Walks-Ahead, Bone-in-Her-Back, Hawkeye, etc.). How do these names illuminate the characters themselves? Would you choose a descriptive name for yourself–and what would that be?