April 17, 2017

Book Club Picks: Orphan Train & Between the World and Me

One thing I enjoy about Book Club is that gets me to read things outside of my usual comfort zone. I would say most of the adult fiction I read is for book club. I just don't pick it up very much on my own.

Of course, some books lend themselves to discussion much more than others, so it's always good when you hit on one that everyone wants to talk about. We've had a couple of winners in that regard over the past few months.

Orphan Train, by Kristina Baker Kline

3.5 stars: History and present-day woven together into a compelling tale.

Molly Ayer is a foster kid who has been passed around her whole life. The couple she's with now barely tolerates her and she does everything she can to put up a wall around her true self. Currently that means going full-on goth: makeup, clothes, jewelry, and all. People are going to talk about her anyway; she might as well give them something to talk about.

Vivian Daly is a rich old lady who lives close by to the place Molly's staying. Molly's boyfriend's mom cleans for Mrs. Daly. When Molly get caught stealing (ironically, a book), she has one last chance to straighten up before she gets sent off to juvie. She has to do community service hours. Her boyfriend manages to get her hooked up with Mrs. Daly, who needs someone to help her clean out her attic.

As the two work together and go through old memories, they find a surprising connection in some of the things they've gone through. Perhaps together they both can find a way to move forward.

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I liked this story. It switched back and forth between Vivian's life in the past, and Molly/Vivian's current-day life. Vivian first came to America from Ireland with her family, but when tragedy struck, she was sent to an orphanage and eventually shipped west on one of the many orphan trains. The people who claimed her had varying degrees of dysfunction in their own lives, which she became a part of.

Our book club had a good discussion about it, which bumped it up another half a star for me. There was quite a bit to discuss: families, how the past shapes your future, the historical aspects of it, etc. There was one twist in particular that had us all chattering. I was fascinated by the way Vivian's quiet acceptance of Molly allowed her outer shell to slowly peel away and her true self to be seen.

Recommended for Kate Morton fans.

Content: There's a near-rape that was vividly described and quite a bit of language from Molly and friends. For adults.

(Finished reading Jan. 7)

Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

3.5 stars: A difficult but important read.

Coates describes his experiences growing up black in America, where we claim to have freedom and civil rights for all, but where the reality often falls far short of that. What exactly does it mean to have "white privilege?" Well, this book has many answers for that.

He discusses his own growing up years and a bit about raising his son. He also weaves in stories of police brutality against blacks--particularly boys/men, and the ways all of their lives are shaped by the violence and racism they encounter so frequently. 

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This was a good one for book club, because after I read it I really wanted to discuss it with other people. Though it's a short book, we had more than enough to discuss for 2+ hours. It's uncomfortable to confront your own prejudices, and reading this book brought some to light for me that I didn't even realize were there. That's why I think it's an important one to read, though. Nothing is going to change if we don't realize what needs to change within ourselves.

The flyleaf says something about Coates offering a way to move forward, but if he did, I missed it. I think it was more about highlighting the problem and the role we each play in perpetuating the status quo.

Finally, the other part of what made this a difficult read was the style of writing. He writes with some poetic license and many times I found myself having to go back and re-read a paragraph to catch his meaning.  

(Finished reading Feb. 21)

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Do you attend a book club? Sometime I'll have to do a post on book club itself, because I know there are many variations. In the meantime, if you've read a book lately that really lent itself to some great discussions, let me know! We're always looking for new ideas!

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