Books / Book club questions

When young Aggie accidentally lights a tragic fire, she hides in rugged Pacific Northwest forest where no one can find her—including smart, mercurial Celia and two irresistible young men: one brilliant and autistic, the other, dangerous. An evocative coming-of-age story about personal wilderness, trust, and the search for forgiveness.

Arriving August 3, 2021 at your favorite bookstore.

Sugar Birds: A Novel

Northwest Washington State, 1985

For years, Harris Hayes has taught his daughter, Aggie, the ways of the northern woods. So when her mother’s depression worsens, Harris shows the girl how to find and sketch the nests of wild birds as an antidote to sadness. Aggie is in a tree far overhead when her unpredictable mother spots her and forbids her to climb. Angry, the ten-year-old accidentally lights a tragic fire, then flees downriver. She lands her boat near untamed forest, where she hides among the trees and creatures she considers her only friends—determined to remain undiscovered.

A search party gathers by Aggie’s empty boat hours after Celia, fresh off the plane from Houston, arrives at her grandmother’s nearby farm. Hurting from her parents’ breakup, she also plans to run. But when she joins the hunt for Aggie, she meets two irresistible young men who compel her to stay. One is autistic; the other, dangerous.

Perfect for fans The Scent Keeper, The Snow Child, and The Great Alone, Sugar Birds immerses readers in a layered, evocative coming-of-age story set in the breathtaking natural world where characters encounter the mending power of forgiveness—for themselves and for those who have failed them.

Preorder Sugar Birds HERE!



  1. Why does Aggie’s dad Harris teach his daughter to sketch birds? What does he want her to look for? Does she ever find it?
  2. Fathers play a significant role in the novel. How do their presence and absence affect Aggie? Celia? Cabot?
  3. Fearful mother Bree believes she can keep Aggie safe by controlling her environment. Aggie believes the forest will protect her. The Heidelberg catechism challenges the concept of external safety: “Lord’s Day Nineteen . . . Second, by his power, he defends us and keeps us safe from all enemies.” Discuss the themes of fear and safety in the novel.
  4. Both Celia and Aggie are deeply wounded by their mothers. Discuss the specifics, as well as the girls’ longings, responses and outcomes.
  5. How does Aggie’s guilt distort her perceptions of people and influence her choices? Consider how she, and we, create our own exiles.
  6. Is Celia’s father Wyatt justified when he tricks Celia into coming north? What could he have done differently? Discuss violation of trust—and its consequences—in the novel.
  7. Discuss the influence grandmother Mender has on Celia. Evaluate pros and cons of her example/mentorship.
  8. Connect the wild forest to the characters’ inner wildernesses. How does the natural world affect Aggie? Celia?
  9. How do autism and synesthesia manifest in Burnaby? Explore how both syndromes enhance and restrict his keen intelligence. How is his position on the spectrum both a benefit and a challenge in his relationships?
  10. Does Aggie perceive her Uncle Loomis and Aunt Nora accurately? Does her understanding of them change? Explain.
  11. How does Cabot’s history shape his behavior? How does Celia’s sympathy for his difficult past make her vulnerable to his manipulation?  What clues to Cabot’s narcissism does Celia dismiss at first?
  12. How does Aggie’s suffering cause her to question what her dad has told her about the Father? Do later events cause her to reconsider? How?
  13. “Consider the birds . . .” appears in the book’s front matter. Discuss the role birds play in the story’s themes of redemption and hope. Where else does redemption appear?
  14. Discuss where and how the theme of forgiveness appears in the story.
  15. For over a month, no one can find Aggie. Discuss how searchers’ assumptions/expectations limit their ability to find her.  How do other characters’ assumptions/expectations limit their understanding of Burnaby? How are we similarly limited?
  16. How do Aggie’s wound and Bree’s brain heal?
  17. What happens (internally and externally) to both Bree and Aggie to reunite them?
  18. Explore how Celia and Aggie change over the course of the story. Consider their growth (or lack of it) in compassion, resilience and purpose.
  19. What sentence or paragraph would you want to read aloud to someone? Why did it resonate with you?
  20. What is a Sugar Bird? Explore the significance of the book’s title.



The View from Goose Ridge

by Cheryl Bostrom

The View from Goose Ridge: Watching Nature, Seeing Life 


Enfants a risques, Enfants a promesses

by Timothee S. Stuart and Cheryl Bostrom



Children At Promise: 9 Principles to Help Kids Thrive in an At Risk World

by Dr. Tim Stuart and Cheryl Bostrom, M.A.

Children At Promise: 9 Principles to Help Kids Thrive in an At Risk World