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Discussion Questions for
An American Beauty

Kensington Books (April 25, 2023)

ISBN: 978-1-4967-3943-8 (ebook)

ISBN: 978-1-4967-3942-1

Discussion Questions for

An American Beauty by Shana Abé


These suggested questions are to spark conversation

and enhance your reading of An American Beauty.



1. When Arabella meets the extremely wealthy and quite married railroad tycoon Collis Potter Huntington, she is seventeen, beautiful, and absolutely impoverished. Why do you think Arabella became romantically involved with a married man 29 years her senior? Do you believe she loved him? How were her feelings for him different from her later feelings for Edward? 


2. What was Catherine‘s role in the destiny of her daughter and the family? Would you have handled things differently, and if so, how?


3. Do you think Belle still would have flourished as she did if she’d never met Collis? Would she have risen to such wealth? Why or why not?


4. What do you think of Arabella’s efforts to manipulate Collis into moving her entire family from Richmond to New York, instead of just agreeing to his proposition at once and going by herself? Were her actions justified? Why do you think she risked so much to ensure her family would not be left behind?


5. What do you think of Collis’s marriage to his first wife, Elizabeth? Did he love her? How was the power she held over him different from Arabella’s power over him?


6. In what ways do you think Elizabeth punished Arabella for the open affair she had with her husband? Were her acts justified or fair?


7. At a picnic in Central Park one day, Belle and Lizzie get into a spat, one in which Lizzie says, “But none of us are as brave as you, little sister. Not a damn single one of us. And if there is one thing our family has learned over these past few years, it is that irrefutable fact.” Belle responds by demanding to know if Lizzie is actually suffering for Belle’s bravery, if she misses her old life of destitution. In what ways did Belle sacrifice herself for her loved ones to pull them out of that life, and to keep them out of it? Do you think she ever regretted it?


8. Describe Arabella‘s relationship with her sisters. How do you think they viewed her? How did their relationships with one another influence the decisions they made in life?


9. Were you surprised at the evolution of Belle and Johnny’s relationship? Do you think that Johnny truly ended up loving her, or was it more of a miserable infatuation with a woman he could not have?


10. Would you say that Arabella was a good mother to Archer?


11. Collis and Arabella each rose to riches after greatly impoverished childhoods. Describe how they each accomplished this. Do you think this was a bond between them? 


12. Would you describe Arabella’s rags-to-riches story as a “Cinderella” tale? What parallels are there, and where do the two stories diverge?


13. Arabella says early on that she is never afraid, but do you think that is true? What do you think she really feared?


14. Who or what do you think was the true love of Arabella‘s life?


15. How does Belle choose to wield her power differently from the other elite women of New York? How are her values and priorities different from theirs? How are they similar?

16. Clara found out she was adopted only by accident. How do you think this revelation shaped her in her years to come? Do you think it made her more untrusting of her parents? Do you blame her for accepting Arabella as an almost-friend, even when her mother was still alive?


17. Did you feel sympathy for Mary Alice? Why or why not?


18. Discuss Arabella’s life from a feminist standpoint. In what ways did she promote feminist ideals? In what ways was she a victim of the society of her times?


19. Throughout her adult life, Arabella put an enormous amount of effort (and money!) into shrouding her origins, lying about her age and her humble beginnings in the South. In what ways do you think she carried her past with her throughout her life despite the pains she took to erase it? Do you think it is possible for people to reinvent themselves completely?


20. Champagne Girl, widow, sister, outcast, femme fatale, doting mother, businesswoman, philanthropist… Arabella held many roles during her lifetime. Which do you think was her truest self?


21. Discuss the title of this book. What role did “beauty” play in Arabella‘s life?


22. There was a vast divide between the haves and the have-nots during the Gilded Age, with great wealth and extreme poverty existing side-by-side. How do you think the class divide today is similar? How is it different?



Bonus Discussion Questions from Shana's smartypants husband, who helped her add this page after being informed that they will soon be adopting two more unwanted house rabbits, because who the heck else is going to adopt them:

   Question 1: What is the optimal number of bunnies in the household?

   Question 2: If you have less than the optimal number, what are you going to do about it?


Discussion Questions for An American Beauty by Shana Abé. Copyright © 2023 by Five Rabbits, Inc. Excerpted by permission of Kensington Books, a division of Kensington Publishing Corp.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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