Reader Discussion Questions

What Passes as Love by Trisha R. Thomas

  1. We’re introduced to the families in three parts of the story. First Dahlias family in the quarters which include Oleen, Papa Sap, and Bo. Next the Holt family. Then the Ross family along with Cleo, Ruby, and Essie. In all settings Dahlia has fought to belong. Do you think she was treated differently or was actually self-internalizing her separateness? Did she create her island or was she put there?
  2. When Dahlia meets Timothy she starts out feeling free and adventurous. Her encounter is harmless. She’s playing pretend when she changes her name to Lily and takes on the persona as a white young lady shopping on a day trip. Put yourself in Dahlia’s shoes. What choices would you have made in her place? Would you have gone with him or remained, and would those choices have been difficult?
  3. What did you think of Essie in the end? What different factors of her life played into her desperate actions? Is she a character to be pitied, vilified, or something much more complex?
  4. Bo nicely presents the belief that kindness doesn’t have a color. Individuals are responsible for their thoughts and actions. Did you find his belief naïve, especially after what he’d been through being sold by the Holt family?
  5. How would Bo’s life have been different if he hadn’t been sold and remained at the Vesterville?
  6. What did you think about Ryland‘s determination to make Lily/Dahlia be with him? Do you think he genuinely had feelings for her or only wanted to possess her? Why didn’t Dahlia take the easy route and stay with him?
  7. In her ruminating , Dahlia ultimately takes responsibility for just everything that goes wrong around her. That her own actions had initiated a cascade of consequences.  Why do you think Dahlia is convinced of this? Do you agree?
  8. In the end do you think Dahlia found the love that she truly felt and understood?
  9. In 1860, Virginia was thought to be a progressive state, yet they were torn between maintaining slavery or siding with the new political model of abolishing slavery for the greater good. There’s an old adage, the more things change, the more they stay the same. What are your thoughts on the current political climate? How much or how little has changed? Why does it seem polarization will always be a part of the process, regardless of the issues? How does real change come about?

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