Reading Guide

  • This Particular Happiness begins with a quote from Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing by May Sarton: “Love opens the doors into everything, as far as I can see, including and perhaps most of all, the door into one's own secret, and often terrible and frightening, real self.” How does Jackie Shannon Hollis explore this concept in her memoir? In what ways has loving another opened the doors for you to see your real self?

  • Early on in This Particular Happiness, Jackie’s mother expresses her disappointment about Jackie’s childlessness. How important should our parents’ hopes and expectations be? Have you ever felt the disappointment of one of your parents? How did you respond to it?

  • Throughout This Particular Happiness, Jackie questions her motivations for wanting a child. What motivated you to have, or not have, children?

  • Jackie is childless, in part because of her relationship to Bill. How do you think her experience is different than the experience of someone who is childless by infertility?

  • How did Jackie’s father’s drinking impact her early relationships with boys and men? How did her husband Bill’s relationship with his father impact Bill’s desire to have children?

  • Before Jackie’s first date with Bill, one friend who knows him tells her, "He might be kind of boring for you." Another friend says, "I don't know if he's for you. . . I think he likes to party." What do you think Jackie means when she describes this as ‘people putting stories on other people’?

  • On a vacation to Mexico, Jackie becomes attracted to another man. Why is this an important scene? How was Jackie changed as a result of this encounter? Have you had a significant moment in your relationship when you realized the choice you made would change the course of your future?

  • How did Jackie’s prior sexual encounters and failed relationships impact her decision to stay with Bill? Why do you think she stays despite her longing for a child?

  • Brief chapters interspersed throughout This Particular Happiness focus on Jackie’s husband, Bill, and his childhood. What purpose do these chapters serve in the book? How did these scenes inform your understanding of why he did not want children?

  • Bill remains consistent about his decision to remain childfree. How did you feel about his firm stance, despite Jackie’s longing?

  • How did you feel about Jackie’s change of desire to have children after they were married? How do you explain her sudden urge to have a child? Where do you think the urge to have a child comes from?

  • At the end of chapter thirty-one, Jackie writes, “Knowing where your scars come from doesn’t make them go away.” In this moment, she is referring to Bill, but how do you think this applies as a larger theme in This Particular Happiness?

  • Jackie’s experience of her childless decision evolves over time. What does she do to make peace with her decision and to avoid resenting Bill? In your own life, what have you learned to accept, and in turn live with, even though you might have made another choice?

  • Over the course of this book, a number of tragedies occur. How are they related to the central question of whether or not to become a mother? How have losses or tragedies in your own life—or in the lives of your friends or family—changed your perspective?

  • What does Jackie learn about friendship through the course of the book? Are your friendships as important and complicated as your primary love relationships?

  • Near the end of This Particular Happiness, Jackie is driving her mother to their hometown of Condon. They talk about farm life, her mother’s pregnancies, and how Jackie came to be, and Jackie reflects on a loving gesture her mother made many years ago. Why is this moment important to this story?

  • By the end of the book we have a sense of a hard-won bond between Jackie and Bill. What strategies did they use to reach this point in their relationship? What do you think it takes for a couple to find their way through a central conflict in their relationship?

  • Jackie questions what she should call herself: childless or childfree? By the end of the This Particular Happiness, what label do you think best fits? What word might we use to describe a woman who has not had children, without using the word child.

  • Has your thinking about people who don’t have children changed after reading This Particular Happiness? Has your thinking about people who do have children changed? Is there a difference in how you see men’s choices versus women’s choices on this question?

  • Jackie weaves many threads into the question of what to do with her longing to have a child. She explores: family legacy, generational expectation, mother-daughter relationships, alcoholism, sexuality, sexual assault, grief and loss, personal growth, relationships, friendships, sisterhood. What situation in Jackie's life do you most identify with? What surprised you most in this story?