Gap Creek -Reader’s Guide


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“Young Julie Harmon works “hard as a man,” they say, so hard that at times she’s not sure she can stop. People depend on her to slaughter the hogs and nurse the dying. People are weak, and there is so much to do. At just seventeen she marries and moves down into the valley of Gap Creek, where perhaps life will be better.

“But Julie and Hank’s new life in the valley, in the last years of the nineteenth century, is more complicated than the couple ever imagined. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what to fear most―the fires and floods or the flesh-and-blood grifters, drunks, and busybodies who insinuate themselves into their new life. To survive, they must find out whether love can keep chaos and madness at bay. Their struggles with nature, with work, with the changing century, and with the disappointments and triumphs of their union make Gap Creek a timeless story of a marriage” (Amazon summary).

Discussion Questions:


Chapter 1:

  • How do challenges and trials compare metaphorically to Julie’s callouses from hauling wood?
  • How does the first paragraph of chapter one grab your attention?
  • What kind of desperation and trials lead to such prayers of the heart?
  • How does pride weaken character?

Chapter 2:

  • How does the family birth order impact family responsibilities?
  • How can ladies not work hard physically? Why would it make a poor impression on men?
  • How does a father’s impression impact a child’s self-esteem? Is it different for a son or a daughter?
  • What kinds of signs or traditions do you have?
  • What does the death of a papa mean to a family of women? Why? Why not?

Chapter 3:

  • Should Mama have taken the largest share of the workload? Why? Why not?
  • When she met Hank do you think she was embarrassed by the callouses on her hands?
  • How would you describe the first encounter of first love?
  • Would Hank Richards normally describe water in such a way or was he trying to impress Julie?
  • Hank says, “Worry never made anybody live a second longer.” How does life and experiences create wisdom in youth?
  • What are the implications and consequences of a short engagement?
  • What purpose was there in leaving his hat?

Chapter 4:

  • What relationship is there between hope and a new marriage?
  • How does homesickness play into Julie’s first experience with Mr. Pendergast?
  • Julie states she couldn’t imagine her life starting in such a manner. How do you think she envisioned the beginning of her marital life?
  • How does Hank exhibit a patriarchal rule in his household? Does he succeed in doing it? Was he right to do it?
  • How does Julie exercise her power?

Chapter 5:

  • What first impression does Ma Richards make?
  • How do grown children return to the role of child when a parent visits? Is it right or wrong?
  • What do you think about Hank’s premonition of his father’s death?
  • Ma Richards says, “The Lords sends us a warning, but we ain’t listening” (p79). Has the Lord ever spoken to you? What consequences have you had for not listening?
  • Did Julie earn respect from her hard work in slaughtering the hog? From whom?
  • How do memories loosen or soften the tongue?
  • How does blame sour people and relationships?
  • What makes the early morning hours to be darkest and longest?
  • How does hard work ease distress?
  • How are they like sin eaters?
  • Why the sadness of sin?

Chapter 6:

  • How does Julie’s peacefulness when Ma leaves compare to the dread when she arrived?
  • Does work fuel or expend anger?

Chapter 7:

  • How did the first fight and trials end Julie’s fairytale dream of marriage and life?
  • “Hank wanted to pick another fuss. It was something he was used to. When you’re unhappy you find a way to get angry and make somebody else angry. But I wasn’t going to fall into that trap” (p141). Do you agree with Julie’s anger impression? How can you interrupt this cycle?
  • What is the difference between Hank’s and Julie’s approach to their economic challenge?
  • How does naming the ridge ‘fussy face’ demonstrate her juvenile age compared to the task of itemizing needs for survival?
  • Should Julie have felt embarrassed about her romp in the woods? Why? Why not?
  • Julie feels the need to help Hank restore his self-esteem. How does her self-worth get restored? Which method of restoration is better?

Chapter 8:

  • What would Julie’s experience be to state that men don’t like to admit their mistakes?
  • Why would they not feel like seeing anyone?
  • Has the Lord ever put a thought in your mind at the right time? When and why?
  • What would you predict for Carolyn when she becomes an adult since she had been so pampered?
  • Lou says, “Older women don’t believe in romance” (p179). Why do older women not believe in romance?
  • Lou who is older asks Julie for advice. How does experience age a person?
  • How can company improve a mood?
  • Carolyn is a spoiled little girl compared to Lou and Julie who are hard workers. How do their attitudes impact their work?
  • How is burning off the creek bed related to physical and spiritual renewal?

Chapter 9:

  • What is the significance of a perfect Christmas tree at Christmas time?
  • How does one’s attitude towards life impact their experiences? Did Hank’s attitude change from before marriage to after marriage?
  • How does weather impact one’s mood?
  • How are depression and self-pity related for Hank?
  • How does the preacher’s faith contrast to Hank and Julie’s reality?
  • Does man reach a point where they cannot learn? If so, what does it look like?

Chapter 10:

  • How can trials defeat man?
  • How is the church the social center of a community?
  • How did the flood wash away Hank’s self-worth?
  • What is the symbolism of going to church on New Year’s Day?
  • How do trials make us grateful?
  • Why didn’t Hank congratulate or even look at Julie during her conversion?
  • How does music ease the soul? Bringing peace?

Chapter 11:

  • How does friendship warm a heart?
  • How could the world be a better place if people helped each other more?
  • Why do people feel embarrassed after losing their temper?
  • How does the last paragraph on page 265 relate to Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs?
  • Why did Hank finally reveal why he was fired?
  • Is there truth to bad luck coming in a streak?

Chapter 12:

  • What would childbirth be like in the 1900s?
  • How is pain like a terrible heat?
  • Is there actually something to prepare someone for childbirth?
  • How did all of the hard work of life prepare Julie for labor?
  • How does Julie’s illness strengthen Hank’s character and work ethic?
  • Why in the time of her greatest distress did Julie hear her father’s voice? Why the younger version?
  • Why or why not is loving others more than self the great kind of love?

Chapter 13:

  • How does Hank’s solution to pray deflate the argument?
  • Why is the death of a child the worst thing that could ever happen?
  • How does work offer tonic to the soul?
  • Why do Julie and Hank attend every meeting and social event at the church?
  • How had Hank changed?
  • What difference did Hank make in Timmy’s life?


Tracy Harrington AtkinsonBy Tracy Harrington-Atkinson

Tracy Harrington-Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the Midwest with her husband. She is a teacher, having taught elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education, a master’s in higher education and continued on to a PhD in curriculum design. She has published several titles, including Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Lemosa: The Annals of the Hidden, Book Two, Rachel’s 8 and Securing Your Tent. She is currently working on a non-fiction text exploring the attributes of self-directed learners: The Five Characteristics of Self-directed Learners.






Tracy Harrington-Atkinson

Tracy Harrington-Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the mid-west with her husband. She loved storytelling and sharing her stories with her children. As they grew, she started writing her stories down for them. She is a teacher, having taught from elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education, masters in higher education and continued on to a PhD in curriculum design. Her husband, Kerry and Tracy breed miniature dachshunds and love to spend time with their growing family. She has published several books including Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Rachel's 8 and Securing Your Tent.

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