1. The Alpine setting
The snowy, mountain setting, with all the activities, traditions and food that go with it, are wholly bound up with Nirvana and Jean-Louis’ story.
Which parts of the Alpine life would you most like to try, if you haven’t already?
If you don’t know where Geneva, Lac Leman, Morzine, Le Biot and Mont Blanc are, have a look on a map.
2. The igloo meet-cute
What do you think of an igloo as a meet-cute (a term used in films for when lovers or friends first meet)? What are its benefits and disadvantages?
What meet-cutes stick in your mind from other novels, films and plays?
When they first meet, Jean-Louis introduces one of Montaigne’s ideas to Nirvana – ‘When I walk alone in the beautiful orchard, I bring my thoughts always back to the orchard, to the sweetness of it.’
When many of us struggle to keep our minds and bodies in one place, what do you think the benefits of being ‘mindful’ might be?
What role do you think social media and mobile phones play in mindfulness?
Have you found any good strategies to keep your mind on where you are?
Ruskin is an artist/philosopher Nirvana talks about several times in the book.
Look up the beliefs of Ruskin and Montaigne and see if you can find a quotation from each which is relevant to your life or which you find helpful.
5. Challenging others on their behaviour
In Chapter 5, Nirvana decides to confront the woman who’s smoking inside.
Have you ever had to call someone out on something they’ve said or done? How did it go?
So often we don’t – is that taking the easy option or the safe option?
6. Honesty and Secrets
Nirvana skips school at home and ski lessons in France in order to do what she wants. She says to herself at one point ‘I don’t get a kick out hiding stuff. I only do it when I have, having found honesty isn’t the best policy with adults.’
How far do you agree with Nirvana about honesty not always being the best policy?
At the midpoint of the book, when Nirvana finally sees the whole chain of mountains with Jean-Louis, she sends a message to Sab saying,
They don’t hide away, why should you and me?
By the end of the story, her parents know all of Niv’s secrets. Do you think she will now manage not to keep things from them?
7. Careers and vocations
When discussing her future career options with her mum, Nirvana says, ‘We can’t help what we are and aren’t drawn to?’
What do you think – is Nirvana right, or should we be aiming at careers where there are genuine needs and gaps?
Do you have a vocation?
8. Expressing our real selves
When Nirvana tells Jean-Louis she’s thinking about giving up on her woodworking ambitions, he urges her not to, saying, ‘Our ame must be expressed.’
The ame is the self.
What ways have you found to express your real self?
9. Tree therapy
At several points in the book, Nirvana expresses her belief in the power of being among trees to calm, still and support you, especially if you’re feeling tense or upset.
Have you ever tried this? Do a little research into the theory behind the benefits of being among trees and nature in general and maybe even give it a try!
10. Cruel to be kind – the role of friends/best friends?
When Niv gets home to Lancashire, Sab calls into question the whole viability of Nirvana and Jean-Louis continuing their romance, saying she’s being ‘cruel to be kind’ by warning Niv that holiday romances turned into long distance relationships are unlikely to succeed.
How far do you think it’s the role of friends to tell you things you might not want to hear? Do you think friends should more support whatever you want to do?
How likely do you think it is that Nirvana and Jean-Louis’ first love will continue after the end of the story? What would you wish for them?
11. Nature and nurture
At several points throughout the book, Nirvana wonders about her donor dad whether her predisposition to like and be good at practical things, such as woodwork come from him.
She also talks about how ‘she’s fallen far from the tree’ in terms of not being academic like her mum.
What are your feelings about which is stronger – nature or nurture? Do you see any examples of it within your family?
12. The story climax
The climax of books, films and plays is when the protagonist fights it out with their enemy, the antagonist. The antagonist is who or whatever is standing in the way of what the main character wants.
Who is Nirvana’s antagonist and when and where is their show down?
13. The Ending!
Would you rather the story ended in the Alps, at the end of chapter 11, with Nirvana and Jean-Louis’ goodbye kiss; or as it does, with the epilogue set a few weeks later.