Questions for discussion from Simon and Schuster Canada’s website
1. Examine possible reasons why Mary’s family left South Korea. Why might they have chosen to immigrate to Canada?
2. Mary’s younger brother Josh is more accepting of their Korean heritage. Describe how that affects his relationship with his sister.
3. Mrs. O’Doherty, an elderly customer, tells Mary she came to Canada in 1916 from Ireland. Mary and her family came in 1975 from South Korea. Consider their different immigrant experiences in Toronto.
4. The family has a unique place in the community. What role does the variety store serve in the lives of its customers?
5. Mary’s family members protect themselves from pain by ignoring or repressing their feelings. Consider some of the consequences of this for each character.
6. Consider how Mary’s relationship with Will Allen changes throughout the novel. What role do race, ethnicity, and age play? How does Mary try to change him, and what does she learn about herself as a result?
7. Mary discovers some surprising truths about Aunt Mira, her mother’s lost sister. How do Mira’s choices in life help Mary understand love?
8. Mary plays many roles with the different people in her life. Do you observe any changes in her behaviour and attitude depending on whom she is interacting with? Do different people bring out different behaviour?
9. Discuss Mary’s motives for writing and how they evolve during the course of the novel.
10. Mary is delighted to make a Korean friend. On the surface, she and Kate have much in common. How are they different?
11. Joon-Ho, who is very proud to be Korean, wants a “Canadian” name and asks Mary to help him select one. What are some reasons why he might want a new name? How is this different from Mary’s experience?
12. Mary finds herself envying her friend Linda who, as a Catholic, could be forgiven for her sins by praying. Discuss the role of faith and religion, and what it means to the characters.
13. Mary’s feelings towards her mother change by the novel’s end. How does the information about the piano force Mary to reconsider her feelings towards her mother?
14. Compare and contrast the four sisters: Mary’s mother, her aunts – jag-eun emoh and kun emoh – and Aunt Mira in New York. How have their choices had an impact on their lives? How does each lifestyle speak to the role of women in their respective societies?
15. Mary realizes that she graduated from high school without ever having studied Asian history, literature, or culture. How did this affect her sense of identity within Canadian society?
16. Tico, the homeless man, gives Mary a gift at the end of the book. What do the bread tags symbolize?
17. Consider the symbolic role of animals and plants (swans, cranes, dogs, lotus, geraniums, evergreens, begonias, ferns, cacti) to convey meaning and explore key themes.
18. Mary’s father teaches her several “lessons” throughout the novel. Identify them and discuss how they help Mary shape her understanding of the world around her.
19. The author believes there are no villains in this novel. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
20. The title of the book, Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety, comes from the name of the family’s convenience store, the principal setting of the story. Consider the ironic meaning of the novel’s title.
Enhance Your Book Club / Extension Activities
1. The story takes place during the mid-1980s and into the early 1990s. Research how this time period reflects emerging movements in society such as feminism, inter-racial romance, and gentrification.
2. Both Mary and Mrs. O’Doherty kept a diary. Consider writing an entry from either one of their points of view about another character in the novel.
3. Research the Korean War. Why is it called the Forgotten War? What role did Canadians play? Visit the Korean War Museum in Brampton Ontario. Visit http://www.veterans.gc.ca for more online resources.
4. Visit a Korean restaurant. Some popular dishes you might consider trying are bulgogi (grilled marinated beef), galbi (short ribs), tangsuyuk (sweet and sour chicken, beef, or tofu), chajangmyun (black bean spaghetti), and bokumbop (friend rice). Post a review online.
5. Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” is Mary and her friends’ favourite song. The 1980s was a decade made memorable by its fashion, music, and pop culture. Make a top ten list of ’80s songs, television shows, movies, and other things that made the ’80s so wonderful.