The House in the Pines is a debut novel by author Ana Reyes and the first pick of 2023 for Reese Witherspoon’s own book club. Like many of Reese’s Book Club picks, this novel explores challenging themes through the story of one female protagonist. Maya is a young woman working through an addiction and trying to find her way forward in life. But instead, she is drawn back into her own past when she learns that a women from her hometown died in the same peculiar manner as her best friend did years ago. Her return home uncovers memories she thought were lost and has Maya (and readers!) questioning reality.
This novel tackles heavy topics such as addiction, family trauma, abusive relationships, and the fragility of our own memory. But, it also portrays the power of friendships, family ties, and self-discovery. There’s so much to explore here and our The House in the Pines book club questions will guide thoughtful discussion going.
This discussion guide for The House in the Pines contains a synopsis, 10 prompts to kick off your book club conversation, and a selection of reviews to compare against your own experience with the book. Within this guide you’ll also find 3 suggestions for your next great read!
Synopsis for The House in the Pines
(We always chose to provide the publisher synopsis because we feel that it’s worthwhile to discuss whether the official book description actually squared with your experience of the book.)
The House in the Pines, Ana Reyes
Armed with only hazy memories, a woman who long ago witnessed her friend’s sudden, mysterious death, and has since spent her life trying to forget, sets out to track down answers. What she uncovers, deep in the woods, is hardly to be believed. . . .
Maya was a high school senior when her best friend, Aubrey, dropped dead in front of the enigmatic man named Frank whom they’d been spending time with all summer.
Seven years later, Maya lives in Boston with a loving boyfriend and is kicking the secret addiction that has allowed her to cope with what happened years ago, the gaps in her memories, and the lost time that she can’t account for. But her past comes rushing back when she comes across a recent YouTube video in which a young woman suddenly keels over and dies in a diner while sitting across from none other than Frank. Plunged into the trauma that has defined her life, Maya heads to her Berkshires hometown to relive that fateful summer—the influence Frank once had on her and the obsessive jealousy that nearly destroyed her friendship with Aubrey.
At her mother’s house, she excavates fragments of her past and notices hidden messages in her deceased Guatemalan father’s book that didn’t stand out to her earlier. To save herself, she must understand a story written before she was born, but time keeps running out, and soon, all roads are leading back to Frank’s cabin. . . .
Utterly unique and captivating, The House in the Pines keeps you guessing about whether we can ever fully confront the past and return home.
10 The House in the Pines Book Club Questions
These questions have been tailored to this book’s specific reading experience, but if you want more ideas, we also have an article with 101 generic book club questions.
- Some cultures blame such deaths on evil spirits. The mind will always try to explain what it can’t understand—it will make up stories, theories, whole belief systems—and Maya’s mind, Dr. Barry said, was of the type that saw faces in clouds and messages in tea leaves.”
Do you agree with quote from the novel, above? Are you surprised that no one believed Maya’s theory about her friend Aubrey’s death? Why or why not?
- How did Maya’s addiction impact her credibility, if at all? As the novel went on, did Maya’s credibility change for you? If so, what was the turning point?
- What signs did you notice which demonstrated Frank’s manipulative character? Is it understandable that Maya missed or ignored these signs?
- How did the alternating timelines contribute to the novel? Do you enjoy this writing structure in general?
- How do you feel about Maya’s decision to hide her addiction from her boyfriend, Dan? Do you think it’s ok to withhold some truth from your partner?
- In this novel we meet Maya, Dan, and Frank’s parents. How did the actions and beliefs of their parents impact each of these characters? To what degree do you think an individual has the ability or responsibility to overcome the influence of their parents?
- Ana Reyes said of The House in the Pines, “The idea of home, though always important to the story, emerged as a theme in ways I hadn’t expected.”
In what ways were the various representations of home (Maya’s hometown, her family’s home in Guatemala City, Frank’s cabin, and even Pixan’s fictional home in the mountains) significant?
- If it were guaranteed to work, would you ever consider undergoing hypnotherapy to correct a habit or forget about a painful experience? Why or why not?
- If you were Maya, would you have confronted Frank in the bar? Do you think it was worth the risk to her own safety?
- At the end of the novel, Maya decides that she will return to Guatemala and finish her father’s story by ‘writing Pixan home’. What’s the significance of this decision?
Selected Reviews for The House in the Pines
(Use these selected Goodreads reviews to compare with your own experience of the book. Do you agree or disagree with the reviews?)
“The House in the Pines is an excellent mystery/thriller that kept me intrigued from the beginning. What happened wasn’t what I’d expected, which is always a treat. The main character struggled with very real, relatable things in her life, which made her feel close the entire time. And her curiosity fed my curiosity. […] I also enjoyed the twist on present and past tense. In the present timeline the author wrote the book in past tense. In the past timeline the author wrote in the present. It was a very clever way to give an immediacy to the past (especially as the character began to recall events).”
“(the book) suffers from doing way too much at the same time […] I really struggled with following this narrative, and the drinking/pill popping trope is so overused at this point. However, I do think there’s a reader/audience for this book. The synopsis is calling it “utterly unique” and I can see that because as the story develops after the halfway mark, it is indeed very different than I expected. Readers will either love or hate the ending, which will make for great book club discussions.”
“I really enjoyed how Maya’s heritage ties into the storyline. Learning of her father was heartbreaking, and just the fact that he tied in the mystery through his novel was amazing. I was confused at first when it would jump back to her father and heritage. I really just wanted to know what had happened with Frank. But, I really appreciated the inclusion of this, and it gave a unique perspective and twist.”
“This is a really mind twisting and fairly disturbing thriller about how an imaginative and open mind can be manipulated by the wrong person to cause harm. This was a really intriguing read. I saw in the acknowledgements that this author was inspired to write this from their thesis for their MFA. I absolutely love that little piece of information because it adds a bit of background to where this story came from within the author.”
More Books like The House in the Pines
If you are keen for more twisty, manipulative psychological thrillers, we’ve got a discussion guide for The Silent Patient and also a list of thrillers similar to The Silent Patient. And for more of that “what really happened with that murder in the past” situation, try our guide for I Have Some Questions for You.
Mexican Gothic, Silvia Moreno Garcia
If you’re seeking another slow burn thriller with plenty of atmospheric ‘vibes’, a determined female protagonist, and a magical realism twist, check out Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. This novel, set in the 1950’s, follows a young woman named Noemi as she travels into the Mexican countryside after receiving a concerning letter from her cousin. There’s something very strange going on in the home where her cousin, her husband, and his family reside, and Noemi won’t stop until she learns the truth. But once she does, will she make it out?
Read it for book club and use our Mexican Gothic discussion guide.
The Woman in the Window, A.J. Finn
For those who enjoy deciphering fact from fiction via an unreliable narrator in a fast-paced thriller, check out The Woman in the Window by A J Finn. Like The House in the Pines, it’s unclear whether substance abuse and psychological stress are clouding our protagonist’s perception of reality, or whether there’s something truly dangerous afoot. This novel plays on similar themes of addiction as The House in the Pines, and asks us again: When no one else trusts you, can you trust yourself?
Our Missing Hearts, Celest Ng
If you want another read from Reese’s Book Club, that also explores the importance of family relationships, cultural ties, and the power of the written word, check out Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng. In this dystopian near future, Americans are subject to laws which serve to ‘protect’ the country’s values from foreign influence. It is in this climate that a young child, Bird, searches for his missing mother, and learns the ugly truth of the world around him.
While this novel is a different genre than The House in the Pines, it novel touches on some of the same themes, while also providing plenty of material for your next book club discussion.
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