This Reader’s Guide for Into the Free is included in the back of the book.
1. How do the Reverend Paul Applewhite (Millie’s grandfather) and Jack Reynolds (Millie’s father) compare? Are they more alike or different from one another? What characteristics of these two men attract so many admirers (church members and rodeo fans)? Are you more drawn to those who live on the edge of madness, the more eccentric, creative, or wild personalities? Or do more stable personalities demand your attention? Think of famous people in today’s society. What is it that makes them so magnetic? What kind of people do you most admire?
2. Throughout her life, Millie is trying to figure out whether or not she really believes in God. Her mother seems to rely on her faith to keep her anchored, singing hymns, praying, telling Bible stories, and quoting Scripture, yet she never takes Millie to church. Millie feels closest to God when she’s in nature, and she speaks of the gypsy gathering as “holy.” How does Millie’s questioning make you consider your own faith? When do you feel closest to God? What do you like or dislike about organized religion and traditions? Have you ever been judged, criticized, ostracized, or punished because of your faith? Have you ever visited a country (or do you live in a country) where religious worship is prohibited? What is the effect?
3. When Millie falls from the tree, she believes that a man catches her and saves her life. She sees this man many times, often when she feels most alone. Do you believe loved ones can watch over us after death? Do you believe in angels? Why do you think Millie’s guardian angel came in the form of Sloth rather than as one of her parents? What role did Sloth play in her life?
4. When Millie is just seventeen years old, she faces a choice of loving Bump or River. Do you think she makes the right choice? Do you think women have more options now than Millie did as a disadvantaged orphan girl in the 1940s? Even with more options, do women still tend to determine their life course based on their husband’s job and priorities? How does your religious affiliation affect the way you see yourself as a woman? Do you agree or disagree with your church’s view of women?
5. Throughout the book, Millie struggles to come to terms with traditional labels of “good” and “bad.” Bill Miller is described as a good man, even describing himself with those words in the steeple. As a rodeo veterinarian, Bump might be looked down upon by the likes of the upper-class Miller. And Millie was surprised to find River a well-read, well-groomed adventurer, rather than the illiterate, dirty stereotype she thought he’d be. What does Millie learn about the way people are perceived and the truth about who they really are? Do you portray your true self to the public, or do you strive to maintain a perfect image, like the Miller family? What stereotypes or class issues do you struggle to overcome, either in the way you perceive others or in the way you are perceived? How many people know the REAL you?
6. How do you feel about the way Millie handled the situation in the steeple? Have you ever been a victim of sexual, verbal, or physical abuse? How have you learned to take a more active role in your own life in order to prevent further victimization? What would you do differently if you could go back to that moment again? Have you been able to forgive the person(s) who harmed you, and how has that ability or inability to forgive affected you? Likewise, have you ever been the one to inflict harm on another person? If so, take time to evaluate the causes and effects of such events. What can you do to break that cycle?
7. Even though Millie felt so alone most of her life, her life has been filled with lots of people who loved her: Sloth, Miss Harper, Mama. She also develops a special bond with Diana’s housekeeper, Mabel, and Diana’s daughter, Camille. What do you think about the relationship she builds with both of them? Do you think she’ll continue to develop those relationships after she leaves Iti Taloa? What people have helped shape your life? Do you believe people are put into our lives for a reason? What efforts do you make to nourish your friendships?
8. Millie has a complicated relationship with her mother and father, yet she loves them both. What do you value most about your parents or your children? What would you like to improve about your relationship? What steps can you take to build a healthier relationship with them? Likewise, Millie’s relationship with her grandparents is beyond strained. How do you see your role as a grandparent or grandchild?
9. Millie leaves town without confronting Bill Miller. She chooses not to let him control one more minute of her life. She tries to leave that history behind her and start her new life with Bump, claiming, “It is finished.” Do you think it’s possible to leave such traumatic events buried deep without ever coming to terms with them? Do you think the events that took place in the steeple will come back to haunt Millie, or is such a clean escape possible? Do you think she should tell Bump about the rape? Do you have secrets that you have kept from those you love? Have you ever wondered what would happen if you told the truth?
10. In the end, Millie reaches a comfortable place with her faith. She comes to believe that a loving God had been there all along, watching from a distance, allowing her to make her own choices. Do you believe everything is in God’s hands, and that all you need to do is pray (as Millie’s mother does)? Or do you believe God gives you options, and that it’s up to you to be the master of your own soul, the captain of your fate?
Additional Discussion Questions
1. This story ends when Millie is seventeen years old. What do you predict will happen to Millie?
2. Who is your favorite character in this story? Why? Who is your least favorite character? Why?
3. What is your favorite scene? What scene made you react with the strongest emotions (good or bad)? What scene would you change, and how?
4. Do you think Millie would have left with the rodeo even if Bump hadn’t been with her? Do you think Millie will go to Colorado with Bump or stay with the Cauy Tucker group and compete with Firefly?
5. What do you think will happen to Bill and Diana Miller? Camille?
6. What could Millie’s mother, Marie, have done differently to create a better life for herself and Millie?
7. What do you think of the symbolism with the mother dog and her pups? Do you know of any women who are willing to sacrifice their own children’s safety in order to survive? As a woman, what do you think of Marie? Millie? And Millie’s grandmother, Sarah? Do you see a pattern to the mothering styles of Sarah and Marie? Do you think Millie, if given the chance, will break that pattern?
8. What do you think of the scene in the baptismal pool?
9. How do you like the traveler woman, Babushka? And what do you think about her noticing the shift in Millie from yellow to red?
10. What role do you think Mabel ends up playing in Millie’s life?