The Year of Magical Thinking Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of The Year of Magical Thinking

Joan and her husband John are severely taxed caring for their adopted daughter Quintana during a protracted series of illnesses. As the story begins, Joan and John sit with a comatose Quintana, a young woman in her 20's. The older couple has endured a lot over the past year trying to get her healthy. They return exhausted to their home and are about to have dinner when John has a sudden and deadly heart attack. He is dead before they are able to return to the hospital.
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Joan watches John die and sees him buried weeks later at the funeral, but the reality of the situation does not connect. For a year, she believes, possibly from the stress of Quintana's illness, that her belief will restore John to life. She believes that this may be a sign of insanity, but finds such behavior in the works of grieving poets and novelists, as well as in academic writing on sorrow. All the same, she is unable to get rid of any of John's things, thinking that he will need them when he returns. Joan spends the next month devoted to Quintana who awakens from her coma but is soon re-hospitalized when she gets blood clots from all the time spent in bed. She is finally released and attends John's burial, then leaves to fly to Florida to convalesce with her husband. Before she can get in the air, Quintana has a brain hemorrhage at the airport. She spends the next several months at UCLA, surviving against all odds. Joan spends most of her time with the recovering Quintana. When the younger woman is finally well enough to return home, Joan barely knows what to do with herself.
Joan becomes obsessed with John's death, trying to discover some portent by which she could have anticipated it. She becomes insulated in a lonely shell of grief, having never been without her husband for four decades. She tries to pull herself by pursuing unemotional journalistic work about the American political system, but her grief is undiminished. She still relies on her "Magical Thinking" in hopes that John will somehow return from the dead. Conversely, she really starts to believe that she is insane. She recalls that as a child she saw little purpose in human life and that only as an adult did she find some satisfaction in it through her role as wife and mother. She finally receives a lifeline from an unexpected source. John's death report comes out and the doctors say that he died instantly the night of his heart attack. Joan finds some solace in the fact that there was nothing she could have done to save him, no matter how fast she got him to the hospital. In the weeks that follow, she regains her sense of normal self, but not of purpose and direction. She decides to simply press on in her life and writing.
Best part of story, including ending: Joan's story is very poignant and relatable to me, having experienced the sudden death of a close family member.

Best scene in story: Joan is so dumbstruck immediately following the death of her husband. It is a very skilled portrayal of that mindset.

Opinion about the main character: I admire Joan's candor and courage to write about her experience so nakedly.

The review of this Book prepared by Andrew Black a Level 5 American Goldfinch scholar

Chapter Analysis of The Year of Magical Thinking

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Plot & Themes

Tone of book?    -   depressed Time/era of story    -   2000+ (Present Day) Family, caring for ill    -   Yes Who is sick?    -   Daughter because he/she is    -   physically ill Internal struggle/realization?    -   Yes Is this an adult or child's book?    -   Adult or Young Adult Book Coping with loss of loved one(s)    -   Yes Loss of...    -   husband/boyfriend/squeeze

Main Character

Gender    -   Female Profession/status:    -   writer Age:    -   60's-90's Ethnicity/Nationality    -   White (American)


How much descriptions of surroundings?    -   3 () United States    -   Yes

Writing Style

Amount of dialog    -   significantly more descript than dialog

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