This reading group guide for
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The Only Survivors includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book. Introduction
Cassidy Bent is one of the survivors of an accident that happened when she was eighteen years old—two vans carrying high school seniors to a volunteer trip veered off the road into a river in Tennessee. Nine people made it out alive. A year later, when one dies by suicide, the remaining survivors promise to meet up every year on the anniversary—so that none of them has to be alone. Ten years after the accident, Cassidy decides to skip the reunion so that she can finally move forward with her life.
When she gets a text from an unknown number notifying her that one of the survivors overdosed three months earlier, Cassidy’s guilt and curiosity force her to join the group in the Outer Banks for the annual reunion, where she senses that something is off. Then one of the survivors disappears and Cassidy tries to uncover the real reason that they have been brought back every year—something else
is drawing them all together. Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. This book comes at a time when true crime and societal fascination with tragic stories is at an all-time high. As a group, discuss the true crime phenomenon. What drives it? Has fiction contributed to this rise?
2. Thrillers often provide a chance for the readers to exercise their reasoning skills and guess twists and solve mysteries alongside the characters. Throughout this book, did you correctly guess any parts of the plot? Which parts did you not anticipate? Does trying to guess twists contribute to or take away from your reading experience?
3. Throughout the book, references to luck and fate reappear—Cassidy states that the survivor’s reunion house came down to luck (page 7), Amaya’s dad was fond of saying that their family made their own fate (page 40), and Russ asks Clara if she believes in fate (page 32). Do you think there’s a difference between luck and fate? If yes, which has the greater influence on the lives of the characters in this story—luck or fate?
4. Early in the story, we become aware of Cassidy’s reluctance to reunite with the survivors for the tenth year—she thinks that this is preventing her from moving on. If you were involved in a tragedy, would you choose to reunite with your fellow survivors annually? Do you think this would help your healing process or set you back, forcing you to deal with emotions you want to move on from?
5. Lies seem to beget more lies in this story. Trace the big lies, or moments where characters withheld the truth. What lie changed the course of the story? If Cassidy initially told the group that her standing in front of the bus caused the accident, would the events of the story differ greatly? What lies had the greatest snowball effect?
6. At the end of the story, Cassidy promises to “leave the past to the past, and never look back.” After the final scene, do you think “leaving the past to the past” is a good idea? Do you think the group would benefit from another reunion to deal with the new truth they have uncovered, or should they never speak about it again?
7. Consider the structure of The Only Survivors
. How do the shifting time frames and point of views impact the story? While reading, did you think that Cassidy was a reliable narrator? Did you think any of the other POVs were ones to distrust?
8. The accident occurred when Cassidy and the other survivors were in high school—a pivotal time in all their lives as they were preparing to graduate and enter the “real world.” Do you think the accident severely altered the course of Cassidy’s life? Where do you think she would be if she never went on that trip? Can you imagine a vastly different life for any of the other characters?
9. Thrillers often have clues that are covertly dispersed throughout the story, leading to a satisfying ending that is not completely unexpected. What clues did you pick up on that related to the ending? Were you suspicious of Russ? Were your suspicions of any other characters unwarranted?
10. Guilt pervades this story as various characters feel guilty for their role in the accident and the aftermath—Amaya feels guilty because the trip was her idea; Cassidy feels guilty because she inadvertently caused the accident. How can these characters overcome their guilt?
11. The characters in this story seem to deal with a lot of the tragedies on their own instead of calling authorities or seeking other sources of professional help. What would happen if the characters involved the police? Do you think anyone deserves to serve prison time for their actions?
12. Though Russ was not directly involved in the accident, he also experienced a tragedy with the loss of his sister and the ways he and his family were neglected in the aftermath. Do you sympathize with Russ? To what extent are his actions justified? To what extent are they not?
13. The characters in this story cope with the accident in different ways. What are some of the healthier ways? What personalized advice would you give the remaining survivors, knowing all that has happened in the past ten years? Enhance Your Book Club
1. Read more of Megan Miranda’s books! The Last to Vanish
and Such a Quiet Place
offer unique but similarly satisfying thrillers with a twist.
2. In the prologue, Cassidy mentions how she tried to disentangle herself in the hopes of becoming invisible and unreachable. She changes her number and goes off social media—and misses news of one of the survivor’s deaths. Cassidy gets a text from one of the survivors and soon discovers that she can’t actually disappear. With your group, discuss the pros and cons of disconnecting from social media and other forms of constant contact. Can you truly disconnect? What do you gain or lose?
3. Imagine that you are going to change the structure of this book. What POV would you tell the story from? Would you include more flashbacks to the accident ten years earlier or less?
4. Consider again the true crime podcast and television/film phenomenon that has increasingly captured audiences. What do you think about the moral implications of being entertained by real-life crime stories? Do you think fiction scratches the same true crime itch?