kristina McMorris

When We Had Wings

Discussion Guide

  1. Penny, Lita, and Eleanor become fast friends upon meeting and remain close even through their years of separation. What do you think binds them together before, during, and after the war? Can you relate to their steady friendship?
  2. The nurses were forced to transition from a paradise assignment to dealing with the worst elements of war. How did each one learn to cope? Have you ever had your world turn so quickly upside down?
  3. Eleanor falls in love within weeks of meeting John Olson and initially believes the feeling is mutual. What do you think she found most compelling and attractive in him? Do you think they ended up with a good marriage? Why or why not?
  4. Penny's parents chose to break communication with her at a time when she probably needed it most. Discuss possible reasons why. What emotions do you think her family members were struggling with?
  5. Lita's goals for her life were shaped largely by her family, driven by practicality then guilt, and ultimately by a true sense of purpose. What most contributed to forming your own life goals? How have they evolved over time?
  6. What were Penny's strengths? Her weaknesses? How about Lita's? Eleanor's?
  7. How was Penny changed by her relationship with Newt?
  8. A romance sneaks up on Lita when she's least expecting it. Why do you think she was truly avoiding any courtship? Have you ever had similar reasons for doing the same?
  9. Early in the story, much of Eleanor's sustaining hope for survival centers on her concept of home. How does this hope change as the war progresses and the situation grows dire?
  10. What do you think is the difference between duty and compassion? How much were these two virtues in play for the three nurses?
  11. For release from Bilibid Prison, the Filipina nurses sign an oath of allegiance to the Empire of Japan. Would you have done the same? Would the decision have been difficult?
  12. In the latter part of the book, Penny reflects that "mercy is always power." What do you think she means by that? Do you agree?
  13. If David had lived, do you think Eleanor's future would have taken a different path? How did he most impact her life?
  14. What did you find most extraordinary about the roles of Penny, Lita, and Eleanor during their imprisonment? Do you think their courage and resolve is unique?
  15. How has this fictionalized story of the real Angels of Bataan affected you? What did you find most surprising? Most touching?