Sara Hosey

Sometimes you have to get lost to get found.

Photo by Sem Steenbergen on Pexels.com

Here are some discussion questions for Iphigenia Murphy, perfect for starting the conversation at a book club or in a classroom! [Warning: spoilers ahead!]

In the 5th century Greek play Agamemnon, the character Iphigenia is sacrificed by her father so that the gods will allow his ships to sail to war.  Consider the following questions about Iffy’s name:

  1. Why do Iffy’s parents give her a name with such weight and significance? 
  2. In what ways does Iphigenia Murphy’s story overlap with the story of the Greek Iphigenia? In what ways does it depart from or revise that ancient story?
  3. Corinne makes a joke about Iffy’s nickname: “I think I might have just gone with Murph myself.” What do you think of Iffy’s nickname? Does it reflect anything about her character?
  4. For a while, Iffy is calling herself Brenda. Corinne has also changed her name. Anthony’s siblings call him Ant. Angel’s “real” name might have been Lola. Why do so many of the characters have several or shifting names? Does who they are with matter in terms of what they want to be called? That is, how do our relationships with others affect how with think about ourselves?
  5. Why is the book titled Iphigenia Murphy? What does the title tell you about the primary concerns of the novel?

Iffy is disconnected from her mother’s family and background. Consider the following questions about Iffy’s ethnicity and her relationship to her mother:

  1. How and why does Iffy’s ethnic background matter?  
  2. Early in the novel, Iffy reveals that she doesn’t fit in at school. Is one’s racial or ethnic identity still a factor in how teenagers navigate high school? Do you think most people sit at lunch tables with others who are racially similar to them?
  3. What are some of the reasons that Iffy feels so strongly that she needs to find her mother? Come up with her top five reasons (even if she isn’t totally aware of those reasons herself).
  4.  Do you think that someone who is very different from Iffy—someone of a different background or class or a different gender identity—could relate to Iffy’s story? Why or why not?
  5. Both Corinne and Anthony also have difficult relationships with their mothers. What is the role of the mother in Iphigenia Murphy? What can or should a mother do for her children? What do each of these characters want from their mothers?

Iphigenia Murphy tackles some difficult issues, including rape, sexual exploitation, intimate partner violence, and abortion. Discuss the following questions about these topics:

  1. Iffy’s step-brother’s violence against her is never explicitly described. Why is this?
  2. While, unfortunately, trans folks experience higher rates of intimate partner violence than other communities, domestic violence cuts across cultures and identities. That is, Corinne’s story is too common for all kinds of people.  What factors allow and empower Corinne to finally leave Henry for good?
  3. The termination of a pregnancy is rarely represented in popular culture and perhaps even more rarely represented in young adult literature. How was abortion handled in this novel? 
  4. Did this novel make you think differently about any of the issues it addresses? How and why?

Iphigenia Murphy ends with Anthony and Iphigenia on the subway, traveling to see Iffy’s mother. While the novel concludes on a hopeful note, many challenges still face the characters

  1. What would you, ideally, like to see next for Iphigenia? What do you think is most likely to happen?
  2. How would Iffy’s experiences have been different if the novel took place today, rather than in the early 90s? How might Corinne’s experiences be different?
  3. Do you think Corinne and Iffy will stay friends for the rest of their lives? What does the novel suggest about the power of friendship and community?
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