First-Year Text: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Discussion Questions

  1. Early on in We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, the character Rosemary Cooke tells the reader that she will start her story “in the middle.” Why is it important to her to skip the beginning? Did the order that the story is told affect how you understood the characters?

  2. What was the big spoiler? Did you know about the spoiler before you read it? Did it impact the way that you understood the story?

  3. There are hints to Fern’s true nature in the book before you’re told: did you sense there was something different about her?

  4. How did being co-raised with a chimpanzee impact Rosemary’s development? In what ways was she different from other, “normal” children? How does she still differ from them to this day?

  5. Consider Rosemary’s father and mother. Are they good parents? Should they have handled Fern’s leaving any differently? If so, how?

  6. Each member of the Cooke family was dramatically affected by the loss of Fern. Did they share a personal sense of guilt? Of regret? Of responsibility for what happened? If so, how did these emotions manifest themselves in each family member? How does it impact the Cooke family’s interactions with each other? How do their responses enrich our understanding of these people?

  7. Have you had your own experience of guilt, regret, or personal responsibility for something that greatly influence your sense of yourself and actions that you took or didn't take?

  8. What is your opinion of Rosemary’s brother, Lowell Cooke? Are his extreme views and actions justified? Does he truly have Fern’s well-being at heart?

  9. How does Harlow Fielding’s whirlwind entrance into Rosemary’s world alter her trajectory through life?

  10. The story begins as Rosemary starts college.  She has resolutely decided not to tell anyone anything about her family.  How does this impact the relationship she has with her parents? The relationships that she forms at college? Can you relate to this experience?

  11. ‘An oft-told story is like a photograph in an album; eventually, it replaces the moment it was meant to capture.’ Think about the significance of memory and storytelling in the novel. How is Rosemary’s memory and, consequently, her narrative affected by the emotional trauma she has experienced?  How true to your own experience does the presentation of memory seem?

  12. Do you think Rosemary comes to find peace with her family history by the end of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves?

  13. Is animal experimentation ever justified? If so, under what circumstances?