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Discussion Questions


  • How does anxiety about the “state of the neighborhood” manifest throughout the novel? What character(s) are most vocal about their concerns?


  • How does Mr. Herze’s hammer act as a plot point that guides readers through Until She Comes Home? How does its use and disappearance contribute to the unraveling of Malina Herze?


  • Throughout the novel, there are several mentions of the actions of “the men” and “the women.” What is the purpose behind this sort of collective mention of gender? What does it say about the Alder Avenue lifestyle? How does this way of speaking collectively about “male” and “female” actions become destabilized over the course of the novel?


  • References to body image, and descriptors of women’s bodies, appear throughout Until She Comes Home. Malina is “not one ounce heavier than she was twenty-five years ago”; Grace is “blonde” and “angelic”; Julia’s hair is “wild” and her chest “swells.” How do these bodily descriptors relate to each character’s personality? How does physical appearance play a role in how women treat each other in the novel?

  • Examine the significance of the following statement: “More than being afraid of the coloreds living in the apartment, they are afraid of one buying and moving into a house, because that would be a lasting change and their lives would never be good again, never be the same.” (29) How does the neighborhood rally against this sort of change? What characters—if any—resist this sort of thinking?

  • Discuss the marriages of Malina and Mr. Herze, Julia and Bill, and Grace and James. Which relationship is healthiest? Are there any similarities in the dynamics of these marriages?

  • In the novel, Izzie and Arie are sometimes referred to individualistically; other times, they are referred to as “the twins” or “one of the twins.” What personality traits do the girls share? How do their personalities differ?

  • What significance does the act of pierogi-making have for Grace? How does her relationship with Mrs. Nowack and the women of the Willingham shop separate her from the women of Alder Avenue?

  • On page 93, Jerry asks “What is a man if he doesn’t have a job?” How does this question resonate throughout the novel? How is masculinity defined in this era?

  • How do the women of Alder Avenue feel pressured to maintain a certain degree of perfection in how they conduct their lives? How are their public and private identities linked?

  • Discuss motherhood as it is portrayed in Until She Comes Home—Malina’s obsession with Cassia’s baby, Betty Lawson’s adoption, Julia’s feelings of inadequacy, Grace’s mother’s recommendation for her to keep quiet. How are womanhood and motherhood connected? Who is a “good” mother?

  • How does Bill and Julia’s relationship change over the course of the novel? By its end, would you argue that their marriage is stronger, or have their difficult conversations created a rupture?

  • Discuss Julia and Grace’s friendship throughout the novel. How does their relationship offer relief from the pressures of their lifestyles? Given their strong relationship, why do you think Julia lied about kissing James?

  • What role do secrets have in advancing the plot of Until She Comes Home? Whose secrets are the most harmful?