Discussion Guide: All the Beautiful Girls

1. Lily is resilient, a survivor. What aspects of her personality and life make her that, as opposed to a victim? Do you think some people choose—consciously or not—to become resilient, as opposed to victims?

2. Aunt Tate is a mixed bag—one moment she’s a strict, seemingly unfeeling disciplinarian, the next, she’s quietly leaving gifts for Lily. Have you ever known someone like Aunt Tate? What makes Aunt Tate tick?

3. Lily has no one she can trust enough to tell about Uncle Miles’s abuse. How have things changed for girls who suffer childhood abuse? How do things still need to change?

4. Why doesn’t Lily hate the Aviator? Why does she seem to forgive the Aviator right from the start?

5. What roles do books play in Lily/Ruby’s life? How do books help her find her way and provide her with support? Is there a book that helped you cope with a difficult period in your own life?

6. Shame plays a large part in this novel: Lily feels shame about her childhood and her choice of Javier, the Aviator feels shame about the car accident, and homosexual men of the time were taught to feel shame about their sexuality. How do the characters overcome or transform their shame? In what ways, does shame determine each character’s course in life?

7. Why does Aunt Tate choose Uncle Miles over Lily? Do you think if Lily had revealed her abuse to Aunt Tate earlier, there would have been a different outcome?

8. Lily’s dance recital piece is an effort to communicate her uncle’s abuse and her inability to escape. Ultimately, Lily/Ruby uses dance to free herself, to enjoy her body in a way that brings her joy, to give herself a voice, and to use a form of power—especially power over men. What other ways do you think dance proves vital to Lily/Ruby? What does dance do for, or give, any of us?

9. Ruby is required to “mix” with men but finds it challenging. Why is it so hard for her? What do her relationships with the men who travel through the casinos teach her? What do those relationships tell her about herself?

10. Ruby accumulates wealth but remains unsatisfied. Why do you think this is so for her, and for many others?

11. What role does Las Vegas play in the novel, in American culture in the sixties, and, most particularly, in Ruby’s growth as a young woman?

12. Ruby’s friendships with Vivid, Rose, and Dee sustain and challenge her. What is special about women’s friendships, and about the ways in which women support one another?

13. Javier is abusive, but he does not go so far as to blacken Ruby’s eyes or beat her senseless. Where is the line between abuse and poor treatment? How does a woman decide when to leave a relationship, and when to hang in there and keep trying?

14. Ruby has long been wanting to join in the protests or otherwise engage with the changes the youth culture is endeavoring to make. Why then does she fare so poorly when she meets with the UNLV protest group? What sets her apart?

15. After she returns from Vietnam, why doesn’t Ruby report Javier to the police and have him charged with theft?

16. Lily/Ruby struggles with what she feels is her flawed compass when it comes to determining whom she can trust and finding love. What has led to this state of uncertainty for her? Do you feel you have an accurate fix on trust, or on finding the right partner? What helps us to learn how to better make these important choices?

17. Would you want to travel back in time to classic Las Vegas? Why or why not?

18. Would you want to be a showgirl? Why or why not?

19. The Aviator and Jack must keep their love for each other a closely guarded secret. How has society changed since the sixties? How might things be regressing, and why? What societal fears limit the expression of love to male-female relationships?

20. Do you think that Lily will ever be able to find and sustain a healthy, loving relationship with a man? Why or why not?

21. How does Sloane’s existence change Lily’s perception of herself? How do the experiences of Lily’s childhood affect how Lily is and will be as a parent?

22. What actors would you cast if there were a film version of All the Beautiful Girls?