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The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton

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For fans of The Keeper of Lost Things and Evvie Drake Starts Over comes a funny and tender debut about a reclusive artist whose collection has gotten out of control—but whose unexpected friendship with a pair of new neighbors might be just what she needs to start over.

Amy Ashton once dreamed of becoming an artist—of creating beautiful objects. But now she simply collects them. Aquamarine bottles, bright yellow crockery, deep Tuscan red pots (and the odd slow-cooker) take up every available inch of space in her house. Having suffered a terrible tragedy—one she staunchly refuses to let herself think about, thank you very much—she’s decided that it’s easier to love things than people. Things are safe. Things will never leave you.

But when a new family moves in next door with two young boys, one of whom has a collection of his own, Amy’s carefully managed life starts to unravel, prompting her to question why she began to close herself off in the first place. As Amy embarks on a journey back into her past, she has to contend with nosy neighbors, a meddlesome government worker, the inept police, and a little boy whose love of bulldozers might just let Amy open up her heart—and her home—again.

Quirky and charming, big-hearted and moving, The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton proves that it’s never too late to let go of the things that don’t matter...and welcome the people who do.

This reading group guide for The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

Amy Ashton once dreamed of becoming an artist—of creating beautiful objects. But now she simply collects them. Aquamarine bottles, bright yellow crockery, deep Tuscan red pots (and the odd slow cooker) take up every available inch of space in her house. Having suffered a terrible tragedy—one she staunchly refuses to let herself think about, thank you very much—she’s decided that it’s easier to love things than people. Things are safe. Things will never leave you.

But when a new family moves in next door with two young boys, one of whom has a collection of his own, Amy’s carefully managed life starts to unravel, prompting her to question why she began to close herself off in the first place. As Amy embarks on a journey back into her past, she has to contend with nosy neighbors, a meddlesome government worker, the inept police, and a little boy whose love of bulldozers might just let Amy open up her heart—and her home—again.

Quirky and charming, bighearted and moving, The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton proves that it’s never too late to let go of the things that don’t matter . . . and welcome the people who do.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. Consider the title of Ray’s novel, The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton. Which treasures of Amy’s are missing? Does she find them by the novel’s end? How do you interpret the title within the scheme of the novel?

2. Many of the items from Amy’s past show up in her present: dark-green wine bottles, mugs, honeysuckle, ashtrays, lighters, and birds are just a few. Why do you think these particular items become so significant to Amy after Tim and Chantel’s disappearance? What about some of the more seemingly random items, like clocks, mirrors, and cookbooks? What might they represent?

3. Although it is never explicitly stated in the novel, Amy copes with the loss of Tim and Chantel by hoarding. Even though hoarding is a relatively common disorder, it’s a taboo subject that’s not often discussed within the public sphere. Why do you think this is? What are other common forms of grief and coping? Is there ever a right or wrong way to grieve? Why do you think some forms of mourning are socially acceptable, while others are not?

4. Amy often assigns her treasures human characteristics or traits—in fact, her emotional attachment to her “aviary” is so strong that Richard believes she keeps real birds. But smaller items are personified as well. An empty wine bottle is “forlorn,” while empty glasses are “sad” (p. 3); a broken mug is “scared” (p. 26); and she fears the pots in her backyard are “starved of attention, of sunlight, of the plants that should have made them complete” (p. 33). Why do you think Amy attaches these very human emotions to the items she rescues?

5. Color plays a major theme in this book, from the descriptions of Amy’s treasures to her wardrobe. “She used to enjoy wearing beautiful colors. The yellow of spring daffodils, purples reminiscent of the evening sky, the blues of a hazy morning. . . . She had never liked black, perhaps that’s why she started wearing it when [Tim and Chantel] had gone. Joy seemed wrong” (p. 136). Consider the evolution of color throughout The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton. Why do you think Amy chose to forgo color for so long? What does her slow incorporation of color back into her clothing indicate?

6. Charles and Daniel are both fascinated by Amy, but Charles is especially determined to make her his friend. Why do you think he is so drawn to Amy? What is similar about their collections and their passions for their objects? How does he help her throughout the novel?

7. When Amy is getting ready to recycle her bottles for the first time, she reflects on their second life. “Broken down and remade. Reborn. Just because they didn’t stay in their current form didn’t mean that they wouldn’t be happy” (p. 163). What might this quote represent within the context of the novel? Do you think Amy empathizes with the bottles here? Why is this such an important moment for her?

8. Amy is often surprised by the kindness of the people around her, and forms several unlikely friendships and alliances throughout the novel. Discuss her initial perceptions and later relationships with Richard, Rachel, and Carthika. Which friendship surprised you the most? Share a story about an unlikely friendship or a surprising relationship you’ve had in your own life. What was something you learned from that experience?

9. Grief is a major theme in this novel, and almost all of the characters—including the more unlikable ones—have private struggles. Why do you think Eleanor Ray chose for all the characters to reveal some of their personal difficulties? Consider the more unlikable characters, like Rachel, Liam, and Nina. Did you view them differently after you learned what they’d experienced or what they regretted?

10. Were you surprised when you finally found out what happened to Chantel and Tim? Why or why not? Did your suspicions change throughout the course of the novel?

11. Chantel’s visit is a huge shock. Why do you think she waited so long to contact Amy? Do you think Amy’s future would have been any different if Chantel had decided not to come back? How would you have reacted to her visit if you were in Amy’s shoes?

12. Who or what has Scarlett, Amy’s favorite china bird, represented throughout the novel? Why do you think Amy chooses to cremate her with Tim?

13. By the end of the novel, Amy realizes “She had to let go of the broken things in her life. . . . She needed to make room for people” (p. 302–4). Throughout the book, Amy’s love of her treasures slowly shifts to the people in her life. At what point does Amy begin to question her current way of living and decide to let more people in? Is there an inciting incident that kicks off this change, or a series of moments that you felt were significant? Who or what has the biggest impact on Amy? Why?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Amy finds many of her treasures at charity shops, and although she loves them all dearly, she decides to part with some of them by the novel’s end: a key ring goes to Mr. Trapper; hand creams are selected for Carthika, Rachel, and Chantel. To embrace Amy’s giving spirit, put the names of all of your book club members into a bowl. After everyone draws a name, visit a local thrift store or consignment shop to choose an inexpensive “treasure” for the person whose name you pulled. Have everyone exchange their items at your next meeting and share why they chose that particular treasure for the person whose name they pulled. Discuss why Amy’s gifting of her treasures at the end of the novel is so significant. Why is gifting items often more fulfilling than keeping them for yourself?

2. Challenge your book club members to clear out one space in their home that they’ve been neglecting for a while—whether it be a closet, a basement storeroom, or a few old boxes in the attic. Make sure to tackle a project that feels manageable and that won’t take more than a few hours to clear out. Take your time going through the items, using the same criteria that Amy does when she sorts through her things: throw away, donate, or keep. Have a notebook with you as you sort so you can jot down any strong emotions or memories associated with the items, particularly the ones you decide to throw away or donate. Share what this experience was like with your book club. Why do you think material items can have such strong emotions or memories attached to them? How does it feel to part with these things? Is it sad or anxiety-inducing? A relief to have a clean space? Both? Discuss how your experience might have been similar and/or different to Amy’s as she went through her own clean-out.

3. Write an epilogue to The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton that takes place a year after the book ends. Once you’re finished writing your epilogue, share it with your book club. Why do you think Eleanor Ray chose to end the book at the very start of Amy’s healing process, rather than at the end? If you were the publisher, would you add your new ending? Why or why not?

4. Amy can be a stubborn and sometimes frustrating character—but that doesn’t mean she’s not lovable! Choose another book featuring a prickly heroine for your next book club pick (Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes, and Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple are all great choices). After reading it, compare the heroine to Amy. How are the two characters similar? Different? Why do you think “difficult” heroines resonate with readers? Is there anything that makes them more endearing than “normal” characters? Discuss with your group.

5. Stay updated on Eleanor Ray’s latest projects. Visit her website, eleanorraybooks.com, and follow her on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook (all @eleanorraybooks) to learn about what she’s working on next.
Photograph by Charlie Hopkinson

Eleanor Ray has an MA in English literature from Edinburgh University and works in marketing. She lives in London with her husband and two young children. Eleanor was inspired to write The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton by the objects her toddler collects and treasures–twigs, empty water bottles, and wilting daisies. She is currently working on her next novel.

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