Annie's Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret Discussion Questions

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

'Annie's Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret' is a memoir by Steve Luxenberg about his search for the aunt that he never knew existed until shortly before his mother's death. This asset provides student discussion questions about this book.

Annie's Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret

Steve Luxenberg's Annie's Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret is a non-fiction book about the author's experience researching his own family's secrets. The book explores shame and guilt surrounding mental illness and the destructive nature of secrets. The book chronicles how Steve learns about an aunt he did not know existed, who was sent to a mental institution for more than three decades. The following questions guide high school student discussions about this memoir.

The Secret

The questions in this section explore Steve's memories of his mother and how the secret impacted these memories.

  • How does Steve learn that he has an aunt? Compare Steve's reaction to Sashie's . Why is this such a shock to Steve? What are some things Steve's mother did to cover up her secret? What strategies have you used to hide the truth?
  • Describe Beth and Mary Jo 's relationship. What is the basis for their closeness? How does this revelation affect the way Beth is remembered by the people closest to her?
  • Why doesn't Steve confront his mother directly about the secret? How would you have reacted?
  • What adjectives would you use to describe Beth? Justify your answer with text evidence.
  • Who is Rozanne? Why do you think Beth tells Rozanne the secret that she keeps from her own children? If you had a secret you needed to share, who would you tell? Why?


This section contains questions about Beth's life and how this secret impacted her and those around her.

  • What do you know about mental institutions in the early 1900s? What details does Rozanne share about Beth's sister's institutionalization? What questions does this information leave for Steve to investigate? How would Beth's family story be different if it occurred in modern times?
  • Which of Beth's health issues could be stress-related? How is Beth's quality of life impacted by her illnesses? What preventive measures could Beth have taken to improve her health?
  • Do you think Steve or Sashie have any regrets about not confronting Beth? Explain your answers. What questions about your family history do you have? What is the best source for this information?

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