All That Matters is a provocative, life-affirming, inter-generational story that prompts us to focus on “what really matters most in life.” Author Jan Goldstein inhabits the very different worlds of a Holocaust survivor and her materially wealthy yet emotionally bereft Granddaughter. Through their experiences, readers explore powerful lessons about love and family and guilt, and most of all, acceptance.
1. Describe Jennifer. Why does Jennifer feel life is not worth living? By attempting suicide, what is she trying to prove, and to whom is she trying to prove it? What does she mean when she says, “suicide is not an act of confusion, but of clarity?” Discuss what you might say to Jennifer about this statement, and why.
2. Describe Gabby. Why is Gabby the “last person” Jennifer wants to see when she wakes up in the hospital?
3. At the end of Chapter 8, to what does Gabby refer when she says “Jennifer is missing everything that really matters?” What does Gabby mean? What are some of the reasons or excuses that Jennifer might offer if she could acknowledge why she is missing what matters?
4. Consider Gabby’s questions, “What kind of God takes a young mother and leaves an aging, unhealthy Grandmother?” Why do you think these things happen? How do they test one’s spiritual and moral beliefs?
5. Looking at Chapter 20, what is happening with Jennifer? Share your impressions of Jennifer’s parents and their role in her life. Why does Jennifer blame her mother for her own death? What do you think she is saying when she says, “Emotions steal your focus so that you can’t see what’s coming?” What emotions make her so fearful? Why does Jennifer use a video camera to see the world?
6. Recount Gabby’s early life story. Looking at Chapter 21, what happened to her in the woods when she was ready to give up, after she left her neighbor’s attic, during the Holocaust? What is the lesson that Mrs. Pulaski tells the young Gabby in Chapter 21? How is Gabby able to turn her own life into something meaningful?
7. How is Gabby’s struggle during the Holocaust similar to Jennifer’s struggle? What does Gabby share with her granddaughter that changes Jennifer’s life? How does Gabby get through to Jennifer? Why is Jennifer able to hear what Gabby says when she wasn't ready before?
8. Think about Gabby sharing “everything” about the Holocaust with her daughter, Lili, and later with Jennifer. In your experience, is this typical for Holocaust survivors? Why do some talk about their experiences and some do not? Is it a protective device, or something else? Do you think it’s important to talk about the Holocaust? Why?
9. In Chapter 26, discuss what Gabby means when she tells Jennifer, “we feel guilty when we don't think we are deserving of a reward or when we have caused harm to others.” Share whether or not you can relate to this, and why. Why do Jennifer’s rational words of comfort fail to mollify Gabby?
10. Trace Gabby’s and Jennifer's road trip. Where do they go, and why? How does Gabby use the “letting go” ceremony on the rock in Maine to relinquish her self-guilt? How does this ceremony impact Jennifer? Are there rituals or acts you've witnessed that inspired you to action? How does letting go of her self-guilt allow Jennifer to make different choices about her life, to move on?
11. What’s going on when Gabby collapses? Why does she collapse at this time? When Gabby and Jennifer are in Maine, what does the “voice” inside Jennifer tell her to do at the hospital? Whose “voice” is it?
12. If you are involved with people older or younger than yourself, share what each generation can give to the other. How is being involved with an older or younger person (family or not) affected your life?
13. Consider sharing the “gifts of the day” with those in your life. Is this something you do regularly? What are some of the “gifts” that you might share today if asked? Why is this important?
14. What is the significance of the title, All That Matters? What does it mean to you? What does author Jan Goldstein believe is “all that matters”?
15. Discuss what matters most to you. How has All That Matters changed or reinforced your own perceptions of what matters most?