Study Guide

A Year Down Yonder Family

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In A Year Down Yonder, Mary Alice has to leave one branch of her family (her mom, dad, and brother) to live with another (Grandma Dowdel). Even though she's still with family, the transition isn't exactly smooth, and Mary Alice finds herself feeling terribly alone…at first.

During her year with Grandma Dowdel, Mary Alice comes to better understand and care for her larger-than-life grandmother, and in the end, Grandma Dowdel is just as important and close to Mary Alice as her immediate family. In fact, they're so close that Grandma Dowdel's house feels like the right place to get married, and Grandma Dowdel feels like the perfect person to give Mary Alice away.

Questions About Family

  1. Why does Mary Alice miss her brother so much when she's staying with Grandma?
  2. Does Mary Alice's view of Grandma Dowdel change over the course of the year? How so? And why?
  3. Why does Mary Alice have Grandma Dowdel give her away instead of her parents? If her parents had been able to attend the wedding, do you think she would have made a different choice? Explain.
  4. What is a traditional family structure? Is there such a thing? In what ways do Mary Alice and her grandmother represent a traditional family structure? In what ways are they non-traditional? For the 1930s? For today?

Chew on This

If Joey had come along with Mary Alice to spend the year at Grandma Dowdel's, Mary Alice never would have become so close to her grandmother—or grown up so much.

If Mary Alice had fit in better at school, she would have spent more time with her peers and her relationship with her grandmother wouldn't have been as important to her.

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