Book Group Discussion Questions
1. Who were the heroes in Fire Angels? The villains? Do you feel sympathy for the young arsonist?
2. What role did the voice of Fire play in the telling of this story?
3. Who shared culpability for the fire? The Church? The City of Chicago? The young arsonist and his parents?
4. Judge Alfred J. Cilella was under considerable pressure. Do you believe that, in the end, he made the right decision? Do you believe he acted in the best interest of the youth, his parents, and the community?
5. The nuns at Our Lady of the Angels received both criticism and praise in the media and in the community for how they reacted in the face of the fire. Do you believe the criticism was justified? What would you have done in a similar situation?
6. Do you believe that in 1962 (or today) that an African American or Hispanic juvenile arsonist would be given the same second chance Judge Cilella afforded the kid?
7. Discuss Jim Raymond’s plight. Was there anything he could have done to protect himself against the false accusations heaped upon him?
8. The kid’s name has never been released in this or other non-fictional accounts of the fire. Given that the boy is now deceased, should his name still be concealed from the public?
9. What kind of mother was Belinda? Do you have sympathy for her? How about Manny?
10. Discuss the role that rumor played in this small Chicago neighborhood.
11. What role did the media play in influencing public opinion about the fire, its causes, and the aftermath?
12. During the 50s and the 60s there was a code of silence in which problems within a family, church, or community were to be kept secret. How did this code of silence affect the survivors of the fire? How did it influence the Catholic Church’s behavior?
13. How far have we come since then in addressing psychological problems such as depression, post-traumatic stress syndrome, pyromania, etc.?