1. One of the most complex characters in Moonlight on Linoleum is Helwig’s mother Carola Jean. In what ways does Carola “rise” to the occasion? When does she “miss the mark?” Did you find her a sympathetic character? How would you describe her feelings for her children?
2. Helwig surmises that her mother’s willingness to give her away when she was three caused her to cling even more fiercely to her mother. What are the differences in a child’s eyes between love, loyalty and the fear of abandonment?
3. Sometimes, a seemingly ordinary conversation can turn around a life. After hearing one such conversation between her mother and JoAnn, her mother’s friend, Helwig writes “JoAnn’s words tore open the smothering sac I had been struggling against… JoAnn set me psychologically free. I wasn’t flawed.” How can one conversation wield so much power? Has someone said something to you that forever changed the way you viewed yourself?
4. In the book, Helwig states “It was 1961, the same year President John F. Kennedy established the ‘President's Commission on the Status of Women.’ Gloria Steinem would not become a national icon for the feminist movement for another eight years.” How much of an impact do you think women’s rights had on Carola Jean? What messages did young Terry receive from her mother about being a woman?
5. The task of “minding” the children was often left to Helwig, the oldest. How did her parental role impact her relationship with her sisters? What are the limitations of a child raising children? How did these limitations affect Carola Jean who was only fifteen when Helwig was born?
6. Helwig found solace in the limbs of an old oak tree on her grandparent’s farm. What inner strengths must one have or develop to cope with adversity? A major theme in Helwig’s book is her love and connection to the natural world. Why do you think Helwig placed such importance on these experiences? Does a child experience the natural world differently than an adult? Did you have a special place of solace and comfort growing up?
7. At the end of the book, Helwig decides to return the care of her two youngest sisters back to her mother. Do you agree with Helwig’s decision? Do you think her sisters were better or worse off as a result? Was Helwig’s decision paramount to her own personal growth and life as an adult?
8. Helwig’s stepfather obviously loved his wife. Did he love her too much?
9. In the book, Helwig writes “Love was not unimportant to Mama; to the contrary, she looked for it like Daddy looked for oil.” What type of love did Carola Jean seek? Physical love? The love of a soul mate? Self-love?
10. Helwig references a number of experiences in school—some positive and others negative. How important is a teacher’s role in a child’s life? Do you still remember a positive or negative experience with a particular teacher? What advice would you offer a teacher as a result of your experience?
11. How would you characterize Helwig’s relationship with her mother? How does their relationship change as the book progresses?
12. Helwig’s mother remarked that she might write a book one day. How do you think Helwig’s mother would have reacted to reading about herself in Moonlight on Linoleum? What might Carola Jean have said that Helwig didn’t?
13. If you were to drive by Helwig’s trailer house on the outskirts of town today, would you imagine a young girl like Helwig living inside? Why or why not?