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Hand-me-down Heartache

A Novel

By Tajuana Butler

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. There are two very different conceptions of marriage in Hand Me Down Heartache, the kind Janelle describes, the loving partnership of her parents, and the kind Nina describes, the exploitative and emotionally abusive relationship of her own parents. How common are marriages like these? If these types represent two extremes, do most marriages fall more towards one end or the other?

2. Nina initially discounts Brianna as her brother’s latest, but certainly not last, girlfriend. But, in some ways, Brianna turns out to be a stronger woman than Nina; she was willing refuse Brice until she was sure he changed his destructive behavior. Why couldn’t Nina do the same with Maurice? What does Brianna realize that Nina doesn’t?

3. Nina’s relationship with Maurice quickly degenerates after the initial romance is over, and even though Maurice manipulates her emotions and cheats on her, Nina takes him back every time. Who is more wrong, Maurice, for his actions, or Nina, for tolerating them? Is their relationship abusive? What role does Nina’s self esteem play in the cycle of their relationship?

4. Leo is different from Maurice in almost every way and while Nina know he cares for her, she still can’t help herself from leaving a good man for a bad one. Only when she achieves peace with herself does she seem ready for Leo. Why is this? Are we unable to have healthy relationships until we are healthy ourselves?

5. The illness and death of her mother is a devastating event in Nina’s life and it is only when confronted with the prospect of losing her mother that she begins to realize what is really important in life. How does Nina change? Do the same events bring about any change in Nina’s father? Why or why not?


6. Like many women in bad relationships, Nina refuses to blame anything on Maurice and attributes most of their problems to her own actions. How can Nina be so perceptive about her parent’s relationship but so unwilling to examine her relationship with Maurice in the same way? Are most women more accommodating for their men than they should be?

7. The men in Hand Me Down Heartache represent a range of types. Discuss how the men – Brice, Smitty, Leo and Maurice – differ. How much alike are Maurice and Smitty? If Brice hadn’t met Brianna would he have changed?

8. To some extent, Brice and Nina carry the legacy of their parent’s marriage to their own relationships. Discuss the effect of this legacy for Nina and Brice. What are the similarities between their relationships and their parent’s? How much do we replicate the mistakes of our parents?

9. As a long suffering wife, Nina’s mother Juanita rarely challenges her husband. Only after she becomes ill does she confront Smitty with his abusive behavior. Does it matter that Smitty doesn’t admit his mistakes? Why does she wait so long? Is it ever too late to change?

10. When friends disagree with each other’s choices they must balance judgment and support to maintain the friendship. Discuss Janelle’s friendship with Nina. How well does she manage this balance? When do follow our friend’s advice and when don’t we?

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