A Year Down Yonder Discussion Questions

  1. What is the irony in Mary Alice Dowdel being called “rich Chicago girl” by her classmates? What do Mary Alice and Royce McNabb have in common?

  2. Mary Alice spends many days “on the sidelines” at school. How is being an outsider difficult? What is her first impression of her classmates? At what point in the novel does Mary Alice begin to feel that she belongs at school?

  3. Grandma Dowdel tells Mary Alice, “I can't fight all your battles for you, but I can give you a level start.” What battles does Mary Alice face when she comes to live with Grandma? What lessons does she learn from Grandma about dealing with people? Cite evidence from the novel that Mary Alice learns to fight her own battles.

  4. Halloween is Grandma's favorite holiday. How does it appear that Grandma celebrates Halloween all year? Mary Alice says, “To Grandma, Halloween wasn't so much trick-or-treat as it was vittles and vengeance. Though she'd have called it justice.” What is the difference between vengeance and justice? Cite incidents in the novel where Grandma's vengeance becomes justice.

  5. Explain the statement, “Grandma was famous for keeping herself to herself, but she was everywhere at once.”

  6. Discuss the term “mixed values.” What is Grandma's idea of right and wrong? Engage the class in a debate about Grandma's obvious mixed value system (e.g., stealing the pumpkins from the Pensinger's farm and leaving them a pie in return).

  7. Trace the development of Mary Alice and Grandma's relationship from the beginning of the novel to the end. Why doesn't Grandma go to the school-sponsored Christmas program, or to the school's graduation ceremony? Discuss Grandma's feelings at the end of the novel when Mary Alice is preparing to return to Chicago. How does Grandma help Mary Alice leave?

  8. What does Mary Alice mean when she says that Grandma has “eyes in the back of her heart”?

  9. Why is it so important to Mary Alice that she and Royce McNabb be married in Grandma's house? Discuss the poignancy of the scene when Grandma gives Mary Alice away.

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