Discussion Guide: True Story

1. Discuss the title of the novel. Why do you think the author chose this title? What is its relationship to the story?

2. What is your definition of “truth?” Is it different from fact? How does context shape what (and who) people hear and believe? Do you believe fiction to be an effective medium for exploring truth, even though the events of the story are constructed or imagined?

3. True Story explores the great and terrible influence that stories can have on our lives. How is Alice’s life and identity shaped by the stories that she and others tell? What do you make of her occupation as a ghostwriter and her effort to refine and polish personal stories and voices for public consumption? What gives a story its power?

4. Discuss Haley and Alice’s friendship and how it changes over the years that the novel spans. In what ways to they understand or misinterpret each other? What is each seeking from the other? How do their expectations for Alice’s story differ, and why?

5. Did your opinion of Nick evolve over the course of the novel? Did you empathize with him at any point? How did you feel about the revelation regarding Nick at the end of the novel?

6. Discuss the themes of loyalty, atonement, and forgiveness threaded through the novel. When are the characters acting from a place of personal conviction, and when are they acting out of a sense of social pressure or obligation? Do you think forgiveness is always a possibility, and if so, what makes it possible?

7. True Story examines power dynamics in a variety of relationships—platonic, sexual, romantic, even paternal. Consider Nick’s hazing by his lacrosse teammates and his devotion to his coach, the evolution of Alice’s relationship with Q, or any other such relationships that you see in the novel. How does power function in these relationships? Which did you find most compelling, and why?

8. Author Kate Reed Petty incorporates elements from a range of fictional genres, including suspense, horror, and noir, into her novel. Why do you think that is? What is the effect on the novel?

9. As a teenager, Alice uses horror to process her trauma. Do you believe that art that is frightening or disturbing can have power beyond shocking or scaring us?

10. True Story is rife with “found documents,” including screenplays, transcripts, emails, and essay drafts. How did these different mediums affect your reading of the story and your understanding of the characters? Which of these elements did you find especially effective or poignant? Do you think that you would have experienced the story differently if these parts of the novel were replaced with more straightforward or plain text?

11. Petty has said that, during the years she spent writing True Story, a consistent response has been that the story is very “timely”—issues around sexual assault, gendered power dynamics, and which voices get heard are, she says, “unfortunately perennially timely.” What do you make of that assessment? Do you think that the “Lax World” section of the book (set in 1999) could have taken place today? If not, how would it be different?

12. Finally, how would you characterize Alice’s personal transformation over the course of the novel? What kind of life do you think she will have going forward, and how will she apply her talents?