Weeping Underwater Looks a lot Like Laughter

Weeping Underwater Looks a lot Like Laughter

by Michael J. White

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101163290
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/04/2010
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 384
File size: 395 KB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Michael J. White was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, though he did spend a few formative years in Des Moines. He is a Columbia MFA graduate and now lives in Brooklyn.

Reading Group Guide

In Weeping Underwater Looks a Lot Like Laughter, a man reflects on his youth to come to terms with his greatest love and most tragic loss. George Flynn meets two extraordinary girls, the Schell sisters, soon after his family moves from Davenport to Des Moines. The eldest, Emily, is an incredibly talented and beautiful actress whose ability to enchant is only matched by her desire to rebel against her parents. Katie, her younger sister, is witty and wise beyond her years, but sadly, stricken with Multiple Sclerosis. As George's feelings for Emily grow, so does his friendship with Katie whose old soul draws him to her in ways he may never fully understand. When a tragic accident tears this threesome apart, Emily and George must search for forgiveness yet struggle not to lose each other.


Michael J. White was born and raised in St. Louis, though he also spent several years in Chicago and Des Moines. He has taught English in South Korea, Peru, Poland, and New York City. A Columbia MFA graduate, he lives in Denver.

Warning: Some questions contain spoilers.

  • How does George and Zach Flynn's relationship grow over the course of the story? Do you sense that one looks up to the other and, if so, who and why? Do their roles ever shift throughout their lives?
  • Why do you feel Mrs. Schell is so strict with Emily? Do you believe Katie's condition plays a factor in this behavior?
  • Emily Schell is one of the most sought-after girls at St. Pius High School. George Flynn is a complete stranger that she takes under her wing soon after his arrival in Des Moines. What do you believe first brought these two together?
  • How do George's parents influence his relationship with Emily and the Schell family?
  • After botching up a boat motor theft, Marcus Panozzo blames "the new kid from Davenport" for his delinquent behavior. Word spreads quickly through the town and Mrs. Schell assumes that George is a bad influence and a troubled teen. Why do you think Emily refuses to stand up for George's reputation and end Mrs. Schell's negative opinion of him?
  • Sadly, the Schell household begins to unravel soon after Katie's accident. How does Katie's death affect each member of the family differently? How do you think the family would've reacted if Emily had been the daughter lost to Saylorville Lake?
  • How does Mrs. Schell's past contribute to her attitude towards others and her outlook on marriage?
  • What reason could Emily have had for allowing the student body to believe that she lost her virginity to Peyton Chambeau?
  • Throughout the course of the story, George and Emily's physical relationship becomes more aggressive and experimental. Do you feel their intimacy decreases as their sexual encounters increase? If so, why is this happening? If not, what do you feel ultimately pulls them apart?
  • George jokingly asks Emily how she "fit[s[ into the whole scene." How does Emily fit into the different "worlds" of their little town? High school? Family? How is Emily as much of an outsider as George is?
  • Emily teases George, "Just promise not to marry my sister, okay? At least not until she's eighteen." George is drawn to Emily almost immediately, but his connection with Katie is also undeniable. How might George and Katie's relationship have developed if she hadn't drowned? Do you believe her age and disease were the main reasons why George never reciprocated Katie's affections? Which Schell sister do you believe would have been the right partner for George, and why?
  • Other than George, Thomas Staniszewski seems to have been Katie's only close male friend. Possibly even her first romantic interest. Why do you think Katie kept the news of her clinical trial at the Mayo Clinic from George? What else do you think Thomas knew about Katie that she refused to share with anyone else? Was Thomas aware of her feelings for George?
  • Katie advises George not to show his affections so easily. Do you think she was giving him advice on how to court Emily, or were her words of wisdom somehow an indication of her own feelings towards George?
  • Sadly, the truth behind Katie's drowning will forever remain a mystery. Do you think it is possible that the incident may not have been an accident at all? Could Katie have staged the accident in an attempt to gain George's attention? Could Katie have wanted to choose her own fate rather than having a medical procedure or a disease decide for her? Plagued with both MS and unrequited love, what did Katie have to live for? Discuss.
  • The themes of first and last loves pepper the pages of this book. We also see recurring examples of how a relationship can completely change an individual for better or worse. Compare and contrast the pairings in this story (Mr. Finey and his wife, Mr. & Mrs. Schell, Katie and George, George and Emily, Zach and Rachel, etc.) and how love transforms them.
  • Emily asks, "[i]sn't it possible to love someone and not tell them everything about your life before you met them? Is that what marriage is—an agreement to confess every mistake we ever made, every thought or memory that passes through our heads?" Discuss the secretive nature of the Schell woman and the effect it has on the men around them.
  • Why is George consumed with images and thoughts of Katie during his first sexual experience with Emily at Saylorville Beach? Was the impulsive encounter a response to the loss they both felt or simply the emotion that had built up between them? How do sex and loss go hand in hand in this story?
  • What were George's reasons for finally sitting down and recapping the details of the accident with the Schells? Why do you believe Emily insisted on letting her parents believe one version of the story while she knew George recounted the incident differently? How did this conversation provide closure for any or the parties involved?
  • Customer Reviews

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    Weeping Underwater Looks a Lot Like Laughter 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
    dferb on LibraryThing 4 hours ago
    George is a nice guy. He's new in town and meets the Schell sisters -- charming, beautiful Emily and her free-spirited sister, Katie, who happens to have MS. George falls for Emily, Katie falls for George, and they become an inseparable threesome, until tragedy intervenes.This is a wonderful story, told in George's touching voice. I cared what happened to each of them, and cried and laughed along with the family. Katie is a fabulous character. Everyone's reactions were believable and true to the spirit of each character.BUT, I think I would have liked the book better if it were about 100 pages shorter. George's ramblings, although true to his character and sometimes interesting, often move off on a tangent only slightly related to the storyline. I would have enjoyed it more if the author had not strayed so frequently -- sometimes moving back and forth in time which was a bit confusing.All in all, a worthwhile read, but not the awesomely wonderful story I expected. Perhaps I just set my sights too high.
    karieh on LibraryThing 4 hours ago
    This turned out to be a completely different book than I thought it would be. It¿s touted as a ¿coming of age¿ book with a tragedy set inside¿but I never got the sense that the main character, George, came of age.The overlying narration is provided by George¿s adult self, and his voice is so strong, his sarcastic amusement with which he views so many of the events of his past, that I never got a sense of who he used to be. He makes fun of himself as a young man and as an adult to the extent that it didn¿t give me much reason to care about him as a character.The book starts off as George and his family move to Des Moines, spending the night before they move into their new home in a hotel ¿ their room right above where a murder takes place. The storyline, as dramatic as it sounds, doesn¿t seem to really go anywhere, and the event just pops up every once in a while.George meets the girl that will be his great love, Emily, and then her sister, Katie, who will provide the main bit of soul I found in the book. Katie suffers from multiple sclerosis, and her strength and sense of humor were the bright lights of the book.Another tragedy strikes, and everything in the new world George has created changes¿but not to any extent I would have thought. Given the circumstances, everyone (including George¿s barely visible parents) seems to move on awfully quickly.Katie, though, has a voice that stays strong throughout the book. ¿This is the only sure thing in my largely uncertain life that is currently posed with such questions of such common adequacy as the capacity to walk under the power of my own muscles, or even more frighteningly, my future ability to see.¿But Katie¿s spirit and voice can¿t make this whole book go. The story of George and Emily becomes less and less compelling as the book goes on¿and in the interest of full disclosure, wearied me to the point that I skimmed the last 30 pages or so. There were many words, but not enough feelings behind them. Many clever phrases, but not the depth of meaning to make them stand out.I loved the title of this book¿that¿s probably more than ½ of the reason I picked it. But the laughter seems a bit canned¿and the weeping just didn¿t seem heartfelt.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Elijian_11120707 More than 1 year ago
    Michael White's novel is a wonderful story about two people who are coming of age, dealing with their feelings for life, their feelings for each other, and at the same time discovering how they can handle a crisis and the subsequent fallout from it. As you read this story you may find yourself thinking back to the days of your first love, the things you did and the adventures you traveled. What you'll also discover is that when you look back on this how much you have evolved as you came into age and how it shaped your young adulthood - how your early years shape you as a person. This book, with all it's whit, charm, laughter and tears, will undoubtedly be a fond addition to the list of books you've read. I look at it in my library and smile.
    annabelle5346 More than 1 year ago
    Weeping Underwater Looks a Lot Like Laughter is a witty, coming-of-age sort of tale that dances a blurry line between tragedy and romance. In his debut, White employs an honest, straight-forward styled prose, coupled with with real life characters and poignant everyday observations, giving the novel a vaguely visceral quality that hits home. I have to say my opinion is probably more than a little swayed by the fact that I grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, where the story is set. I went to Lyons Park in the summers, and saw movies at Billy Joe's Picture Show, and Saylorville Lake was practically in my backyard, so the experiences related to us were intensely familiar to me, and brought back many lovely childhood memories. I also empathize with some of the more subtle sociological trends of the Middle-American population Whites's main character George spoke of, such as the "the daily gossip-mongering and passive-aggressive nitpicking that in my experience thrive on such hosts as midsize Midwestern cities with inextricable ties to their state's agricultural economy." I found this a more than accurate description of behavior I had witnessed all my life, but could never really put my finger on. The narrative is that of a teenage boy, George, who has just moved to a bigger city, and instantly falls for a budding actress at his new school by the name of Emily Schell. He's lucky enough to have his affection returned but learns that Emily comes sort of as a packaged deal with her sister, Katie, who has a debilitating disease. As the three become a merry band of mischievous adolescents, a triangle begins to form when Katie develops a crush on George. Just as things start to get interesting, tragedy strikes, and their world is turned upside-down. Now George struggles to hold on to Emily as the two work separately to work through their grief and attempt to put their lives back together as best they can without the missing pieces. I thought this was an excellent first book, and found it deeply moving, laugh-out-loud hysterical, and hit-the-nail-on-the-head clever all at the same time. I'd recommend it to anyone with good taste.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    BookLoverCT More than 1 year ago
    I agree with the voices of each of the reviewer's that are featured on the cover of the novel. This book will be one that I will read over again.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    mkt727 More than 1 year ago
    Weeping Underwater Looks a Lot Like Laughter is one of those books you want to be a part of. I wished as I was reading it that I could be a character in the story. Even though it's told in the voice of a teenage boy, any reader could relate to what he goes through...and you'll really hope he triumphs in the end. First love, for all of the main characters, is made all the more alluring by the circumstances that interfere. George and the Schell sisters poignantly lean on and help each other through heartache, joy, and loss in this story you won't want to end.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago