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Discussion Guide

Lemons In The Garden of Love: A Novel

By Ames Sheldon

Winner of the Firebird Book Award for Current Events, LEMONS IN THE GARDEN OF LOVE is a very timely tale about reproductive freedom, which is under serious attack across the country. It’s easy to forget what life was like for women before birth control was readily accessible. This novel is an important reminder of all that’s at stake today for women who want to be able to decide their own futures.


In 1977, Cassie Lyman, a graduate student in women’s history at the University of Minnesota, travels to her sister’s shotgun wedding in Massachusetts. On her way there, Cassie discovers a trove of suffrage cartoons, diaries, and letters of Kate Easton, the founder of the Birth Control League of Massachusetts in 1916, when she visits the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College. 


Over the wedding weekend, Cassie learns that Kate was her great-grandaunt, and one of her aunts confides in Cassie about Kate’s secrets. Soon Cassie’s and Kate’s lives start to parallel each other.


This novel was inspired by Blanche Ames, president and co-founder of the Birth Control League of Massachusetts, the author’s great-grandaunt. In a dream, Blanche asked the author to write her story; however, the author has taken liberties with Blanche’s actual history in order to create a compelling plot.


This discussion guide was shared and sponsored in partnership with Ames Sheldon. 


Discussion Questions

Use these discussion questions to guide your next book club meeting.

Cassie Lyman, the main character in Lemons in the Garden of Love, discovers a drawing of a pregnant woman on a cross in the beginning of the novel. How does Cassie react to that image? How did you respond to it?


Both Cassie and her mother Liz were accomplished women who wanted to make their mark. Discuss the decisions that Cassie and Liz made for their careers and families.

Kate had a botched abortion early in her life, which led her to found the Birth  Control League of Massachusetts. Cassie is on a mission to teach women’s history and the importance of reproductive freedom. Both Cassie and Kate are trying to put meaningful life choices into action. Discuss how their sense of purpose defines their characters

“Sheldon’s evocative prose and compelling sense of the sweep of history grabs attention from page one…a moving portrait of the struggles and successes of first- and second-wave feminism.” BookLife Reviews


“A rich historical novel that examines the slow acknowledgement of women’s rights.” Foreword Reviews 


“Amazing how relevant this story is today. I couldn’t stop reading.” Mary Logue, Still Explosion


“Ames Sheldon’s beautiful novel brings us on a journey with characters that come alive on the page…It’s easy to forget what life was like for women before birth control was readily accessible and Sheldon’s engaging writing is an important reminder of what’s at stake today, when we find ourselves facing the potential loss of many of these rights.” Sarah Stoesz, President and CEO, Planned Parenthood North Central States


“Readers will be caught up in Cassie Lyman’s story, her hard decisions…They will come away with a much deeper understanding of the depths and the human costs of the long struggle for reproductive rights and its centrality to the unfinished fight for gender equality.” Sara M. Evans, Born for Liberty: A History of Women in America