“An astute, engaging debut” (Publishers Weekly), The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is a quirky and utterly charming tale of a community in need of reconciliation and two girls learning what it means to belong.
England, 1976. Mrs. Creasy is missing and the Avenue is alive with whispers. The neighbors blame her sudden disappearance on the heat wave, but ten-year-olds Grace and Tilly aren’t convinced, and decide to take matters into their own hands.
Spunky, spirited Grace and quiet, thoughtful Tilly go door to door in search of clues. The cul-de-sac starts to give up its secrets, and the amateur detectives uncover more than they ever imagined. A complicated history of deception begins to emerge—everyone on the Avenue has something to hide.
During that sweltering summer, the lives of all the neighbors begin to unravel. The girls come to realize that the lies told to conceal what happened one fateful day about a decade ago are the same ones Mrs. Creasy was starting to peel back just before she disappeared...
“A thoughtful tale of loyalty and friendship, family dynamics and human nature” (Kirkus Reviews), this glorious debut is part coming-of-age story, part mystery. The Trouble with Goats and Sheep radiates an unmistakable warmth and intelligence and is “rife with tiny extraordinaries” (The New York Times Book Review). “Joanna Cannon is an author to watch” (Booklist, starred review).
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)|
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Reading Group Guide
This readering group guide for The Trouble with Goats and Sheep includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
One summer day in 1976, Margaret Creasy disappears, disrupting the quiet lives of her neighbors on the avenue. Her husband is sure she’ll be back before long; the rest of the neighborhood blames it on the record heat wave they’re suffering. But the longer Mrs. Creasy is gone, the more people start to whisper about what made her leave.
After a sermon from their local vicar, two girls, Grace and Tilly, decide to look for God. Their search brings them to every house on the cul-de-sac, and as they question their neighbors, they inadvertently touch on old wounds and long-kept secrets, forcing the inhabitants of the avenue to face the past and admit that they might just know what happened to Mrs. Creasy.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Why do you think Joanna Cannon set the novel during England’s heat wave of 1976, and what effect does the weather have on her characters?
2. What do you think of Walter Bishop when he is first introduced? How accurate or extreme are his neighbors’ views of him? Did reading The Trouble with Goats and Sheep make you think about how you judge others?
3. Is a small community like the avenue more a force for evil or for good?
4. How do the different characters in the novel carry their secrets? How does this reflect your experience among your friends and family?
5. Who do you think is the better detective, Grace or Tilly? How do their distinct personalities impact their sleuthing?
6. Do you think Dorothy Forbes really has difficulty with her memory? How does her relationship with her husband Harold affect that?
7. The avenue inhabitants have many different versions of the same story. What motivates each of them?
8. Consider the image on the drainpipe. Was it a divine message, or somehow spiritual? Why or why not?
9. The events of the summer of 1976 are formative for Grace and Tilly. Can you think of a particular summer memory from your childhood that left a lasting impression on you?
10. “The world is full of goats and sheep. You just have to try and work out which is which” (page 195). Who are the goats and who are the sheep at the end of the novel?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Imagine what happened when Mrs. Creasy returned to the avenue, and discuss your ideas with the group.
2. Grace and Tilly’s summer days can be measured out in television programs and spoonfuls of Angel Delight. Get nostalgic and think back to your own childhood summer vacations: what were the cultural moments, treats, or experiences that define those memories for you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was a sweet story with valuable lessons, but slow at times and the ending felt unfinished to me.
“Everyone was so certain of what had happened, but maybe the present crawled into our memories and disturbed them as well, and perhaps the past wasn’t quite as certain as we would like it to be” The Trouble With Goats And Sheep is the first novel by British author, Joanna Cannon. During the heatwave of 1976, Margaret Creasy disappears from Number 8 The Avenue. “Mrs Creasy was still missing on Tuesday, and she was even more missing on Wednesday, when she’d arranged to sell raffle tickets for the British Legion. By Thursday, her name was being passed over garden fences and threaded along the queue at shop counters” Ten-year-old best friends, Grace Bennett and Tilly Albert are as curious as the rest of the street. Did she leave of her own accord, and if so, why? Perhaps she was murdered! Words from the Vicar after church on Sunday (“If God exists in a community, no one will be lost”) set Grace and Tilly on a mission: if they find God (who is EVERYWHERE), perhaps Mrs Creasy (who was nice and was teaching Tilly to knit) will be safe. As Grace and Tilly search for God, they notice that people in the street are behaving quite strangely. Perhaps it is the heat: “July had found its fiercest day yet. The sky was ironed into an acid blue, and even the clouds had fallen from the edges, leaving a faultless page of summer above our heads”. They are warned to stay away from Number 11 (Walter Bishop’s house) but no one will say exactly why: “It was better for children if they didn’t know all the facts, she’d said, and the words always left her mouth in italics”. They are fairly sure that Mr Creasy didn’t kill her: he isn’t fat enough and doesn’t have a moustache. Anyway, he’s much too upset: “He missed her reassurance. The way she stole his disquiet and diluted it, and how her unconcern would pull him through their day. She never dismissed his worries, she just disentangled them, smoothing down the edges and spreading them out until they became thin and insignificant”. Cannon uses multiple narrative strands to tell the story, which covers two months of summer during 1976. Each chapter is headed with a date and an address in The Avenue, so that it is clear whose perspective is being shown. As well as this, Cannon intersperses throughout this, flashbacks to 1967, starting in December and receding some six weeks, tell of incidents that led up to the fire at Walter Bishop’s house. The reader gradually learns why the street is so anxious about the reason Margaret Creasy has left and what will happen when (or if) she returns. Using young Grace as a narrator is a stroke of genius: her innocence, her youthful perspective and her candour, as well as often being a source of humour, lead to some remarks of profound wisdom and ingenuous prescience. Cannon’s characters are familiar: people we meet every day in the corner shop or on the bus. Each has flaws and secrets: one might say that, except for Tilly Albert, none of the characters is entirely blameless; at one point, even Grace’s behaviour is less than stellar. The understated cover hides a novel of true brilliance. Cannon explores guilt and grief and shame, the perils of being different, the need to be accepted, and how easily a community will ostracise and persecute. Cannon’s prose is exquisite: it is difficult not to fill a review with quotes like “I had learned not to take any notice, because she carried worrying around with her at all times, like a spare cardigan” and “My mother l
This is probably a week out of my reading life that I'd rather not have lost. It just seemed to ramble on with no definitive ending. I was very disappointed.
How I laughed and how I cried at this novel! Joanna Cannon’s writing is lyrical and magical and she paints a heartwarming picture of life in England in the 1970s. There are so many funny moments in this, wry observations and so many ‘I remember that’ moments. Now I’m not a child of the 70s but I do still remember a lot of the things mentioned in the novel – the Arctic Roll, the trouble with having to get comfy in church, the way you’d warm up the TV, find a soda stream the next big thing and an aunt who offered a feast of chocolate on every visit despite her saying she’d never eat them herself. The confusion and reasoning of two ten year old girls is spot on. The story is one I can’t write much about as this is a gem to savour, to gasp at, to laugh at, to wipe away tears before it gets too much and sit thinking behind your own net curtains when it does. We all have goats and sheep in our midst but it’s how we live side by side that matters. The goats v sheep theme is one which got me thinking and ten year olds have a good way of explaining things that adults cannot. This is a gem of a debut and one which takes you back to the day when life was different yet the same. Can I just say as well – towards the end the girls make a discovery and there is a headline in the local paper which just floored me! Joanna Cannon you are one funny lady.
I enjoyed The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, which reminded me of Michael Frayn's Spies. Both books follow a pair of young friends as they play amateur sleuth, solving a mystery but simultaneously uncovering secrets the adults around them would have much preferred to remain hidden. In fact, the cover copy from my 2002 hardcover of Spies serves equally well as a summary of Cannon's novel: "In gripping prose, charged with emotional intensity, [The Trouble with Goats and Sheep] reaches into the moral confusion of youth to reveal a reality filled with deceptions and betrayals, where the ties of friendship, marriage, and family are threatened by cowardice[.] ... [Cannon] powerfully demonstrates ... that what appears to be happening in front of our eyes often turns out to be something we can't see at all." This is not to say that Cannon's book is derivative; her pre-adolescent girl protagonists, particularly Grace, the first-person narrator of the story, have their own voices and their own sets of foibles and blind spots. Cannon's decision to present events from the viewpoint of ten-year-old Grace (rather than as the recollection of an adult Grace) is a wise one; while at least one reviewer has noted that Grace is smarter, more observant, and more well-spoken than your average ten-year-old, her point of view keeps the reader in the moment, puzzling out clues at the same time as Grace and Tilly and being carried along by their youthful momentum. There are other pleasures to be found here as well. Cannon writes perfect descriptions of such varied phenomena as early widowhood ("forced her to weave a life from other people's remnants"), terraced houses ("handcuffed families together through chance and coincidence), and the saccharine taste of certain childless older women: "I stared at the room. It looked as though someone might have served it into the house with an ice cream scoop. Even the things that weren’t pink had a mention of it, as if they hadn’t been allowed through the door without making a firm commitment." Fans of both literary fiction and mysteries (not that those categories are mutually exclusive) will find The Trouble with Goats and Sheep appealing. I received a free copy of The Trouble with Goats and Sheep from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon is a highly recommended debut novel featuring two ten year old girls who decide to look for God and solve a mystery. It is the summer of 1976 and a heat wave has swept England. What is really troublesome is that Mrs. Creasy has disappeared from the cul-de-sac and no one knows why. Friends Grace and Tilly decide, after a casual conversation with the vicar, to search for God and Mrs. Creasy at the same time. Interestingly enough, the girls figure out that the adults around them aren't all being completely honest when answering their questions and it seems that the adults around them are hiding something. What all the adults seem to agree on is that Grace and Tilly should stay away from #11. The title of the novel refers to a parable where Jesus is separating good from evil, explaining it as separating the sheep from the goats. The novel almost acts like a parable itself, showing how the truth will eventually be revealed and the hypocrisy of judging others without acknowledging your own involvement in wrong doing. (See the parable "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" Matthew 7:3) The citizens on the cul-de-sac firmly believe all their actions are just and they blame Walter Bishop in #11 (their goat, or scapegoat) for all manner of crimes. Chapters alternate between the present day, 1976, and events occurring 9 years earlier, in 1967. It seems to Grace and Till that the adults are hiding some secrets from that time and apparently Mrs. Creasy had begun to figure out some of the lies. The events of 1967 begin to explain some of the events of 1976. Each chapter begins with the date and address, making it clear which neighbor is narrating that piece of the puzzle. This is a very engaging story and you will want to figure out what exactly happened in 1967 that has all these people blaming Walter Bishop for, well, everything. The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is a well written debut novel that combines a mystery with a coming-of-age story. Grace sounds much older than ten, so I simply mentally made her a couple years older and went on with the story. Admittedly, finding the image of Christ on a drainpipe was a bit of an eye-roller for me. It felt like it sent things too far over the top and made what was allegorical and symbolic into more of a farce. The end was a surprise. Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.