Readers’ Choice: 10 Books Sure to Spark Great Book Club Discussions

March 25 2021
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Of course, we all love when we’re chatting in book club and bonding over the shared love of a book, but some of the best discussions happen when disagreements arise, resulting in an enlightening chat that we never would have had otherwise. We love finding those book club firecrackers that launched topics of conversation, helping us bond with fellow book club members more than wine alone ever could. So, we queried the Book Club Favorites Facebook Group to see which books sparked their best discussions. Here’s what a few of them had to say, as well as our own recommendations of books that have led to memorable, eye-opening discussions.

Lucky Boy
by Shanthi Sekaran

Two mothers who never meet are bound together by their love of one boy in Shanthi Sekaran’s LUCKY BOY. Optimistic in her search for a new life, eighteen-year-old Solimar Castro Valdez crosses the Mexico/U.S. border. Weeks later, she learns that she’s pregnant, and arrives at her cousin’s doorstep in Berkeley, California. Her path soon collides with Kavya Reedy, who is content in her marriage and with her job as a chef for a UC Berkeley sorority house, but heartbroken when she learns that she’s unable to conceive. As Solimar is detained and her infant son comes under Kavya’s care, the narrative unfurls in a moving depiction of the intense struggles that undocumented immigrants and their loved ones are going through.

Discussion points: “Motherhood, adoption, and an immigrant’s journey seeking a better life in the US.” –Gerrie Teresi Bannister, a Book Club Favorites Facebook member

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Lucky Boy
Shanthi Sekaran

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Against the Loveless World
by Susan Abulhawa

Susan Abulhawa’s striking AGAINST THE LOVELESS WORLD is propelled by its complex protagonist Nahr, a Palestinian woman imprisoned by the Israeli government, who is being used as a publicity tool to prove that Israel is treating prisoners humanely. As Nahr sits in solitary confinement, she reflects on the actions that have led to her political awakening and subsequent imprisonment, including a jilted marriage, forced prostitution, and being made a refugee by the U.S. invasion of Iraq. This is one tough, thought-provoking read that you won’t be able to stop discussing!

Discussion points: The cruelty of solitary confinement, the treatment of Palestinians during Israeli occupation, the oppression of women, and what it means when your body is not wholly your own.

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Against the Loveless World
Susan Abulhawa

2020 Palestine Book Awards Winner
2021 Aspen Words Literary Prize Finalist

“Susan Abulhawa possesses the heart of a warrior; she looks into the darkest crevices of lives, conflicts, horrendous injustices, and dares to shine light that can illuminate hidden worlds for us.” —Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize–winning author

In this “beautiful...urgent” novel (The New York Times), Nahr, a young Palestinian woman, fights for a better life for her family as she travels as a refugee throughout the Middle East.

As Nahr sits, locked away in solitary confinement, she spends her days reflecting on the dramatic events that landed her in prison in a country she barely knows. Born in Kuwait in the 70s to Palestinian refugees, she dreamed of falling in love with the perfect man, raising children, and possibly opening her own beauty salon. Instead, the man she thinks she loves jilts her after a brief marriage, her family teeters on the brink of poverty, she’s forced to prostitute herself, and the US invasion of Iraq makes her a refugee, as her parents had been. After trekking through another temporary home in Jordan, she lands in Palestine, where she finally makes a home, falls in love, and her destiny unfolds under Israeli occupation. Nahr’s subversive humor and moral ambiguity will resonate with fans of My Sister, The Serial Killer, and her dark, contemporary struggle places her as the perfect sister to Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties.

Written with Susan Abulhawa’s distinctive “richly detailed, beautiful, and resonant” (Publishers Weekly) prose, this powerful novel presents a searing, darkly funny, and wholly unique portrait of a Palestinian woman who refuses to be a victim.

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MENTIONED IN:

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Faye, Faraway
by Helen Fisher

Thirty-seven-year-old Faye wants her two young daughters to always know that their mother loves them unconditionally, an intention which is motivated in part by losing her own mother at a young age. Faye has tended to suppress her grief from this loss, but when she suddenly finds herself back in 1977, the year before her mother died, Faye is given the chance to connect with her mother and her younger, seven-year-old self. As the two women grow closer, Faye realizes that she must choose between those she loved in the past and those she loves now. This spellbinding tale of time travel explores the pressing question of “what if we could go back in time” in a way that is both unique and heartbreaking.

Discussion points: The unrelenting force of grief, mother-daughter bonding, and learning to live in the moment.

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Faye, Faraway
Helen Fisher

A heartfelt, spellbinding, and irresistible debut novel for fans of The Time Traveler’s Wife and Outlander that movingly examines loss, faith, and love as it follows a grown woman who travels back in time to be reunited with the mother she lost when she was a child.

Faye is a thirty-seven-year-old happily married mother of two young daughters. Every night, before she puts them to bed, she whispers to them: “You are good, you are kind, you are clever, you are funny.” She’s determined that they never doubt for a minute that their mother loves them unconditionally. After all, her own mother Jeanie had died when she was only seven years old and Faye has never gotten over that intense pain of losing her.

But one day, her life is turned upside down when she finds herself in 1977, the year before her mother died. Suddenly, she has the chance to reconnect with her long-lost mother, and even meets her own younger self, a little girl she can barely remember. Jeanie doesn’t recognize Faye as her daughter, of course, even though there is something eerily familiar about her...

As the two women become close friends, they share many secrets—but Faye is terrified of revealing the truth about her identity. Will it prevent her from returning to her own time and her beloved husband and daughters? What if she’s doomed to remain in the past forever? Faye knows that eventually she will have to choose between those she loves in the past and those she loves in the here and now, and that knowledge presents her with an impossible choice.

Emotionally gripping and ineffably sweet Faye, Faraway is a brilliant exploration of the grief associated with unimaginable loss and the magic of being healed by love.

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MENTIONED IN:

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Close
My Sister, the Serial Killer
by Oyinkan Braithwaite

They say that blood is thicker than water, but what lengths would you go to in order to cover up for a family relative who happens to be a serial killer? MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER begins with Korede’s dinner being interrupted by a call from her younger sister, Ayoola, who, for the third time, has just killed her boyfriend. Despite Ayoola’s murderous tendencies, Korede loves and protects her sister. However, when Ayoola begins to date the doctor with whom Korede has long been in love, she must decide if she can continue protecting Ayoola and her dark secret.

Discussion points: Covering up for a family member and also when to put your feelings first. –Donna Schmidt Wrage, Book Club Favorites Facebook member

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My Sister, the Serial Killer
Oyinkan Braithwaite

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The Snow Child
by Eowyn Ivey

Based upon a Russian fairy tale known as “The Little Daughter of the Snow,” THE SNOW CHILD is a fantastical story that questions the meaning of family. After their only child is stillborn, Jack and Mabel move from Pennsylvania to Alaska in an attempt to start over. As the couple begins to drift apart, they find a moment of levity during the winter’s first snowfall and create a child from snow. The next day, the snow child is gone, but Jack and Mabel spot a young blond girl named Faina running through the trees, and come to love her as their daughter.

Discussion points: How a family is built and how motifs of magical realism can enhance a narrative.

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The Snow Child
Eowyn Ivey

For fans of “Once Upon a Time”

If you’re over the age of 11 and still obsess over fairy tales, odds are you’re a loyal viewer of “Once Upon a Time.” In between episodes, you’ll love Eowyn Ivey’s retelling of a classic Russian fairy tale. During the season’s first snowfall, a childless couple builds a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone—and they glimpse a young girl running through the trees. As with all fairy tales, however, things aren’t always what they appear.

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Educated
by Tara Westover

A sweeping and honest memoir, EDUCATED is Tara Westover’s account of growing up in the mountains of Idaho with her survivalist Mormon family. While the importance of education serves as one of the book’s central themes, EDUCATED is an honest look at healing from physical and emotional abuse, the grief that comes with questioning family teachings and severing family ties, and the strength that comes with admitting weakness. Even after reading the book, there’s a lot to unpack. Since her family’s response to the book varied greatly, varied greatly, follow-up research may also provide interesting discussions of how people often see the same event differently.

Discussion points: Unlearning your upbringing, self-reliance versus reaching out to others, and when a nonfiction book’s factuality is called into question.

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Educated
Tara Westover

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White Ivy
by Susie Yang

“Ivy Lin was a thief, but you would never know it to look at her,” begins WHITE IVY, Susie Yang’s crackling debut novel centered on a Chinese American woman who will stop at nothing to gain wealth and privilege. As a child and teenager, Ivy steals from thrift stores and yard sales to attain the trappings of a suburban teen, subsequently attracting the attention of her crush, the wealthy Gideon Speyer. When Ivy’s mom catches her and she is sent to China, she fears she has lost her chance with Gideon, until a random encounter years later with Gideon’s sister sets her on a collision course with him. However, just as she feels she has everything in her reach, a figure emerges from her past and threatens to ruin all she has worked toward.

Discussion points: The lengths one will go to attain the American Dream, old wealth versus new wealth, and what makes for a satisfying ending.

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White Ivy
Susie Yang

***LONGLISTED FOR THE CENTER FOR FICTION’S FIRST NOVEL PRIZE***

From prizewinning Chinese American author Susie Yang, this dazzling coming-of-age novel about a young woman’s dark obsession with her privileged classmate offers sharp insights into the immigrant experience.

Ivy Lin is a thief and a liar—but you’d never know it by looking at her.

Raised outside of Boston, Ivy’s immigrant grandmother relies on Ivy’s mild appearance for cover as she teaches her granddaughter how to pilfer items from yard sales and second-hand shops. Thieving allows Ivy to accumulate the trappings of a suburban teen—and, most importantly, to attract the attention of Gideon Speyer, the golden boy of a wealthy political family. But when Ivy’s mother discovers her trespasses, punishment is swift and Ivy is sent to China, and her dream instantly evaporates.

Years later, Ivy has grown into a poised yet restless young woman, haunted by her conflicting feelings about her upbringing and her family. Back in Boston, when Ivy bumps into Sylvia Speyer, Gideon’s sister, a reconnection with Gideon seems not only inevitable—it feels like fate.

Slowly, Ivy sinks her claws into Gideon and the entire Speyer clan by attending fancy dinners, and weekend getaways to the cape. But just as Ivy is about to have everything she’s ever wanted, a ghost from her past resurfaces, threatening the nearly perfect life she’s worked so hard to build.

Filled with surprising twists and a nuanced exploration of class and race, White Ivy is a glimpse into the dark side of a woman who yearns for success at any cost.

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MENTIONED IN:

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Close
The Dinner
by Herman Koch

Fans of Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL and William Landay’s DEFENDING JACOB will be immersed in THE DINNER. The book starts off with a simple premise: two couples go out to dinner at a posh restaurant in Amsterdam and begin making small talk about work and the holidays. However, the conversation begins to devolve as the topic turns to their fifteen-year-old sons, mutually connected by a terrible act of violence. Familial love is tested as both couples attempt to defend their sons.

Discussion points: How far parents will go to defend their children, the hazards of keeping secrets, and the pros and cons of unreliable narrators.

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The Dinner
Herman Koch

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MENTIONED IN:

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By Sharon Van Meter | September 16, 2021

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By Off the Shelf Staff | September 15, 2021

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By Karen Bellovich | September 14, 2021

Close
All About Love
by bell hooks

ALL ABOUT LOVE begins with a radical notion: “The word ‘love’ is most defined as a noun, yet . . . we would all love better if we used it as a verb.” In the following chapters, hooks challenges readers to reconceptualize love and the practice of loving, urging people to enact love beyond romance and invest in friendships and their community. She also provides best practices for how to love in the most fulfilling manner, stating the need for commitment, honesty, and communication in all relationships, and stressing that “The choice to love is the choice to connect.”

Discussions points: The concept of love outside of romantic love, the value of communication, and learning to value your own self-worth.

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All About Love
bell hooks

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In the Dream House
by Carmen Maria Machado

IN THE DREAM HOUSE turns the concept of a memoir on its head, as Carmen Maria Machado blends together her experience in an abusive queer relationship with narrative tropes and horror themes. As Machado seeks to make sense of her experiences, she turns to every source she can find, from historical archives to cultural representations of psychological abuse, and expertly interweaves her findings with her own personal story.

Discussion points: Queer domestic abuse, popular depictions of queerness, and the impact of upending genres and narrative tropes.

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In the Dream House
Carmen Maria Machado

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MENTIONED IN:

Readers’ Choice: 10 Books Sure to Spark Great Book Club Discussions

By Off the Shelf Staff | March 25, 2021

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