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In this bravura follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize, and National Book Award-winning #1 New York Times bestseller The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.
Based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative that showcases a great American novelist writing at the height of his powers.
Welcome to In The Club, a newsletter of resources to keep your book group well-met, well-read, and well-fed. I am writing to you from a fort of boxes! Moving is for the birds, but moving in 90+ degree weather is for… I dunno, las cucarachas. Wish me luck as I begin the grand schlep to Portland. For now… to the club!
Question for the Club
Alright friends: time to do the slow two-step-and-snap to Boyz II Men’s End of the Road: Question for the Club has come to an end! Y’all got too busy to send responses! No hard feelings whatsoever. I’ll bring the queries back in the future, just on a less frequent basis, and I’ll still do a wrap-up of July’s query next week!
This week’s theme: That Summatime Sadness
Today’s book club theme is end of summer, which I’ll admit I’ve picked for sentimental reasons. There’s something about the end of a life season more or less coinciding with the end of an actual season that’s a little bit sad, a little bit perfect, and even a touch poetic. I picked books set all or part at the end of summer, reads that tap into that sentimentality while giving you tons to discuss.
Book Club Recs:
The Mothers by Brit Bennett – It’s the summer after her senior year in high school and seventeen-year-old Nadia Turner is grieving her mother’s recent suicide. She takes up with Luke, a local pastor’s son; they both know it won’t last, that feelings are fleeting and Nadia will soon leave for college. Then Nadia discovers she’s pregnant, kicking off a string of events that will leave a mark on all involved for many years to come.
This one is set in a northern San Diego neighborhood for extra emo points.
- Book Club Bonus: Where to begin?? Discuss how the book handles women’s ambition and friendships, and how both can change with the passage of time. Discuss a woman’s right to choose and how even the right choice is sometimes a very difficult one. How did the Greek chorus narration (i.e. “the mothers”) affect the story? By the end of the book, has Nadia fully processed her grief?
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – In one of my favorite pieces of contemporary YA, Cath and Wren are twin sisters approaching their freshman year in college. They’ve been inseparable all their lives, especially after their mother walked out on their family, bonding particularly over a shared passion for fan fiction based on the popular Simon Snow fantasy series. Just as school is about to start, Wren tells Cath that she wants to live apart, do her own thing, and drop the fan fic writing to which Cath so desperately clings. Cath is forced to examine her identity as an individual and find her place in her rapidly changing world.
That Simon Snow series, by the way, is basically a queer Harry Potter plus demonic rabbits. Enjoy!
- Book Club Bonus: I want everyone to flex those creative muscles and write a short piece of fan fiction! Have each club member share theirs with the group – remember, this is a safe space – and then have a discussion about fan fiction as a whole (Was it easy or difficult to come up with yours? How does fan fic add to (or take away from) the original? Do you have a better understanding of why people write fan fiction?). Please do this and then share yours with meeeee!
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg – I read this five times in three years and wept every time. Evelyn is a middle-aged woman in a passionless marriage and Mrs. Threadgoode is the elderly nursing home patient telling Evelyn her life story. That story takes us back to the 30s in Whistle Stop, Alabama and introduces us to Idgie, an incorrigible tomboy with a loud mouth and heart of gold, and Ruth, her loyal friend and co-owner of the Whistle Stop Cafe. Their story made my heart so, so full even as it broke with its examination of racism, friendship, love, and loss. Picture me crying in a library when you read the words, “…whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge…”
- Book Club Bonus: You probably won’t need my help coming up with conversation for this one: the dehumanizing effects of racism and a murder you might root for are fodder enough. Take a moment though to examine the book as a piece of lesbian and feminist fiction. I don’t want to say too much here to avoid spoilers, but aaaaah smoldering looks and meaningful gestures. You’ll see.
- Related: I really dig the movie adaptation of this one. Kathy Bates screaming TOWANDAAAAA! is a whole 2019 mood.
I somehow missed that NPR’s Code Switch had a Summer 2019 book club episode back in June??
Thanks for hanging with me today! Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your burning book club questions or find me on Twitter and the gram @buenosdiazsd. Sign up for the Audiobooks newsletter, get it on the Read Harder podcast, and watch me booktube every Friday too.
Stay bad & bookish, my friends.