The Gift of Sarah Barker Topics for Discussion
by Jane Yolen

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Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

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1. Is the development of plot or of character more important in this novel.

2. What does having a "gift" mean, exactly, to the Shakers? What is Sarah Barker's "gift," which gives the novel its title? Does Yolen make the meaning clear?

3. Why does Sarah spell her name with an "h," when the community calls her Sara?

4. Does Yolen give equal emphasis to the characters of Sarah and Abel? Is one character more rounded or better developed than the other?

5. What does Abel mean when he says: "They hear, but they don't listen?" Why does Sarah agree?

6. At one point Sarah suddenly understands her roommate Ann's creation of "dream messages" or "paper visions." What does Sarah mean? What is Ann's purpose?

7. What does Sarah mean when she thinks about "how perfect the Dwelling House was and how like a dream." It was "as preserved as a tomb" (Chapter 5).

8. What purpose is served by repeated references to the symbolic cloak of Mother Ann Lee? Why does Sarah turn to the image? Why does Sister Mary?

9. The Shakers are occasionally shown chanting about love (as in Chapter 7), or singing and dancing.(as in Chapter 26). How truly exciting are these scenes as Yolen describes them? Do they convey happy religious union?

10. What does Abel think during the Mountain Eve and Feast rituals? Is this a decisive moment in his life?

11. Why does Sarah plan to give a note to Abel during Mountain Feast? What does it signify for the relationship?

12. What are Brother Eben's thoughts at the departure of Abel and Sarah (Chapter 26)? Is there some truth to these thoughts?

13. Is Sister Elizabeth a good choice for Mother Jean's successor? Why, or why not?