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How the Strong Survive

Discussion Questions

Cover Art for HTSS

Ben Pace is a Lakhota Medicine Man. He speaks the ancient tongue of the animals. He carries on with his spirit guide. What are your reactions to the Ben Pace character? Is Ben in-touch or out-of-touch with modern life? Is Ben a believable character?

What are your feelings about the animal characters, e.g., Red Mother (fox), Old One, Hard Run, Rides Back (raccoons), the Tall Brother (tree) in Quiet Waters Park, et cetera?

Overall, is HTSS a fantasy or reality based thriller?

Considering scientific studies into the sentient capacities of various animals and plants, in the future, will we be able to talk to plants and animals, or are their mental capacities too primitive? Given the definition of racism, could there be "specie-ism"?

What of Ben's habit of seeing rituals where Americans would perceive “normal” conversations. Do we practice rituals without being aware of them? What are habits, and why do we have them? Traditional holidays have marked sequences of rituals. Baseball as a sport is full of them. What is the role of ritual in your life?

Can Raven-Who-Hops be real? Are angels real ? Do ghosts exist? Are atheists correct in their view of the universe? Was Shakespeare (as Hamlet) right when he said “There is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in your philosophy”?

Given the book's portrayal of the Lakhota Way, how do you feel about Ben’s freedom to practice his own religion? Who has a right to define who/what is pagan? Was the US government right to forcibly separate American Indian children from their families and then send them to missionary schools to be brainwashed with Christianity? Is that any different from Islamic regimes requiring everyone to be converted to their "true religion?"

What did you think of the primary characters, Rita Cade, Maria Vacarro, Kelly Larson, and Lisa Towers? Were they real? Have you known anyone like them? Which one did you most relate to? What would you change about any of them?

What did you think about the John Keagey character? Was he adequately revealed through the writing, or should he have had more direct interaction with the rest of the characters?

Violence in literature (film, video games, …), especially against women and children, is a hotly debated topic. A protagonist's heroism is directly related to the strength of the antagonist (s)he faces. What do you think about the various ways different authors depict the depravity of violent criminals that are essential to serial killer / murderer fiction? Can you compare or contrast the violence in HTSS with other books in the genre?

What about violence directed toward suspects and / or villains? Is violence ever justified? What role can revenge play in healing? What does "closure" really mean to victims and their families?

What are your thoughts on the secondary characters, e.g., Teresa Cade, Roy Campagnella, Linda Monroe, Emily Towers...

Were the settings adequately described, or did you want more (or less) description of the scenery? What do you remember of the interiors of the Ellicott Mills Brewing Company, or the Shears Locks Combs hair salon? What about the various external settings in parks or rural spaces? Can you name some of them?

2007 marked the 12th year of the Cobell v. Kempthorne lawsuit. The GAO estimates that the US government and its workers stole billion of dollars from the Indian trust funds. Before reading HTSS, were you aware of the looting of the Indian Trust Funds? Did you look on the Internet to see if the purported facts were true? What are your feelings about the culpability of the US government in this matter? Paying back the billions of dollars could be a problem for the government. What should be done in this matter?

Ben Pace set up a public protest in Cape May, New Jersey, which he knew might turn violent. What is the proper role of civil disobedience in the course of a stable government? To what level is anti-governmental action concerning injustice allowed before it becomes anarchist? Did the FBI over-react at Ruby Ridge or the Waco religious compound? Is it possible that the Nixon government pushed the FBI to exceed it’s authority at Wounded Knee? Should an external review be conducted into the case of Leonard Peltier and other American Indian Activists who were made felons in the 1970s?

What about the author’s use of humor? What of the relationship between Raven-Who-Hops and Ben? Between Ben and Tishton? Between Ben, Rita, and Teresa? What about the boy in Historical Annapolis, "Mom! Look! He's talking to a crow!"



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