Precious: A Novel

By Sandra Novack
Publisher:Random House, (2/17/2009)

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The summer of 1978, ten-year-old Vicki Anderson rides her bike to the local park and goes missing. Her tight-knit blue-collar Pennsylvania neighborhood, where children roam the streets at night playing lightning tag, aboveground pools sparkle in backyards, and flowers scent the air, will never be the same.

Down the street from Vicki’s house, another family is in crisis. Troubled by her past, headstrong Natalia Kisch has abandoned her husband and two daughters for another man. Frank Kisch, grappling with his anger, is left to raise their girls alone, oblivious to his daughters’ struggles with both disappearances: Eva, seventeen, plunges into an affair with her married high school teacher, and nine-year-old Sissy escapes to a world of imagination and storytelling that becomes so magical it pierces the reality of the everyday.

When Natalia unexpectedly returns, the struggles and tensions that have built over the summer erupt into a series of events that change the Kisches irrevocably—forcing them to piece together their complicated pasts and commitments to each other.

In this haunting, atmospheric debut, Sandra Novack examines loss, loyalty, and a family in crisis. Lyrical and elegiac, Precious illuminates our attempts to make sense of the volatility that surrounds and consumes us, and explores our ability, even during the most trying times, to remember and hold on to those we love most.
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 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.
1. Precious is set in a small, blue-collar suburban town in the 1970s.
Do you think this setting plays an important role in the story, or
merely serves as a backdrop?
2. How does Vicki Anderson’s disappearance mark “the beginning of
fear”? How does it affect the course of the novel?
3. Sissy Kisch’s beloved doll, Precious, figures strongly into her friendship
with Vicki Anderson and the stories Sissy writes. Why do you
think the novel is titled Precious?
4. How do characters in Precious cope with or mismanage their loneliness?
Or feel “on the periphery of things”? How do loneliness and freedom
become intertwined for many of them?
5. Consider Natalia: her childhood, her stories, her rituals, and the impact
her absence, and eventual return, has on the Kisch family. How
does she change? How does the family change? Does Natalia’s return
do more harm than good? Is it all “lucky or unlucky”?
6. Discuss the types of obligation in Precious: between parents and
children, between husbands and wives, between sisters, neighbors,
friends, lovers, and strangers. How is obligation enforced? Manipulated?
How and why is this used as a means of control?
7. The day she leaves, Natalia tells Eva: “Don’t give up your freedom.
The day you give up your freedom, the day you lock yourself away is
the day you disappear. In your own skin, you vanish” (page 27). What
do you think she means by this? How does Natalia attempt to attain
freedom? Eva? Frank? Peter? Is anyone in Precious free? Do you think
this advice haunts Natalia?
8. Examine the characterization of the women in Precious: Natalia,
Eva, Ginny, Amy, Sissy, Vicki. What similarities do you find among
them? What differences? Are they victims, or something else? Do you
identify with them? Why or why not?
9. How does Peter justify his relationship with Eva? How do their
expectations differ? How does Eva’s expectation that “Love, a life
away . . . Peter would help her forge a greater sense of the world”
(page 179) differ from the reality of the situation? Do you sympathize
with Eva? With Amy? With Peter?
10. Discuss the characters who disappear in Precious, even those who
just feel invisible, or “ghostly.”
11. “There is always a story. No one leaves forever.” How do stories
and memories of those we’ve lost serve to “resurrect the dead”? Do you
agree with Sissy that “There [is] always a way home again” (page 270).
Why or why not?
12. The final moments of the book mark a conversation between Sissy
and a stranger she meets while traveling. Given the novel’s trajectory
and the Kisches’s fates, how do you interpret this final interaction?
Does it satisfy, or fail to? And how might that feeling work with the
overall tone and theme of the novel?

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