May keeps her identity as the twins’ birth mother a secret from them for six years. What else does she conceal and from whom?
Do you think secrets protect or harm the characters in the novel? Which character’s secret made the biggest impression on you and why?
May is sixteen when she leaves home. The twins, Jen and Ricki, are sixteen when they realise May is their birth mother. How does the author portray growing up? How are the twins’ experiences of adolescence similar to May’s? How do they differ?
In what ways does May’s character evolve? Do your feelings towards her change over the course of the novel?
Which character provoked the strongest reaction in you, and why?
Different kinds of love are depicted in the novel: parental, sibling, romantic and platonic. Which relationship interested you the most, and why?
To what extent do you think May was in control of her own fate, or was she a victim of circumstances? If the story was to continue, what do you think should happen next?
How do the female characters in the novel exert their own will? What limits them?
The novel is set in Nanchang and Manchester. How would you describe the sense of place in The Secret Mother? What links the two cities? How does the novel present economic and cultural changes in post-Mao China?
May’s belongings reveal her to be the twins’ birth mother. What other objects are important in the novel, and what do they tell us about the secret mother? Which of your own personal effects reveals the most about you?