The Linen Queen

Center Street  2011

Set in Northern Ireland during World War II, The Linen Queen is the story of beautiful and flirtatious Sheila McGee, who works in the linen mill in her small town. She and her selfish, mean mother live with a miserable aunt and drunken uncle, and Sheila dreams of escape to England or America. When she wins the local Linen Queen contest she thinks it will change her life, but it is the bombing of Belfast by the Jerries and the Yankee army’s arrival in town that radically alter life for Sheila and her fellow townspeople.  Now she must share her tiny room with a troubled teen, a refugee from the Blitz. A relationship with a lonely American Jewish soldier opens up her world, and she begins to evolve into a caring human being. The author evokes the local Irish lingo and landscape beautifully. Although the story is slightly repetitive, it reveals much about how great world events affect a small, remote town. The book is suitable for both teens and adults.

Discussion Questions

1. Was Sheila justified in wanting to escape her life in Northern Ireland? 

2. Did she have a duty to stay and take care of her mother? 

3. Should Sheila have given her mother the Linen Queen prize money? 

4. How did Ma’s behavior shape Sheila’s actions and her view of herself? 

5. How did winning The Linen Queen crown change Sheila’s view of herself, and others’ view of her? How would her life have been different if she had not won? 

6. Should Grainne have been more grateful to Sheila? 

7. Were Patsy and Kathleen really Sheila’s friends? 8. What was the real reason Gavin was angry at Joel? Was it patriotism or jealousy? 

9. Was Gavin a patriot or a traitor? Did he redeem himself? 10. Did Joel mean it when he told Sheila he would come back for her? 

11. Was Sheila in love with Joel? 

12. Is it possible to be in love with two people at the same time? Was Sheila? 

13. How would Sheila’s life have been different if she’d gone away with Joel when he first asked her? 

14. Do you think Sheila and Gavin were meant to be together? Why? Why not? 

15. Did your opinion of Sheila change over the course of the story? How? 

16. How do you think the people of N.I. were different before and after the war? 

17. How were Sheila’s Ma and Mrs. Hollywood different as mothers? 

18. What would your version of a “Happy Ever After” be for Sheila? 

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