by Julie HaleAugust 2010
August's best paperback selections for reading groups
An unforgettable coming-of-age story, Joyce Maynard’s Labor Day convincingly dramatizes the mother-son bond while spinning a story with suspense and emotional power. Henry is a 13-year-old loner who doesn’t venture far from the home he shares with his divorced mother, Adele. A fragile and introverted woman, Adele—like her son—tends to keep to herself. But their lives take an unexpected turn after a bleeding man named Frank asks Henry for help in a store. Frank—an escaped convict—holds mother and son hostage at their house over Labor Day weekend. Aggressive yet tender, he ties Adele to a chair but makes sure she’s fed, and he coaches the hopelessly clumsy Henry in baseball. When Adele and Frank find themselves falling in love, Henry struggles with feelings of jealousy. Scared of being abandoned, he’s forced to grow up fast as Labor Day approaches. At once beautiful and disturbing, this remarkable novel—Maynard’s sixth—is a moving read. A reading group guide is available.
With This Is Where I Leave You Jonathan Tropper delivers another hilarious page-turner, a contemporary comedy about marriage, family and emotional maturity. Judd Foxman is sent reeling by the end of his marriage and the termination of his job, both of which occur after he catches his wife in bed with his boss. Judd receives yet another shock when his father dies. Summoned home to sit shiva for seven days with his kooky family, he becomes immersed in their problems. Wendy, his sister, is locked into a dead-end marriage, while Paul, his brother, must deal with his wife’s infertility. A screw-up when it comes to finances, Phillip, the youngest sibling, is forever enmeshed in a bad business deal. Despite their differences, the time spent in mourning serves to unify the Foxman clan, as they learn surprising lessons about themselves. Narrated with humor and intelligence by Judd, this is a warm-hearted yet edgy book—a delightful family portrait that will resonate with any reader whose relatives are a bit dysfunctional. A reading group guide is available.
Futuristic, chilling and wonderfully original, The Year of the Flood takes readers back to the post-apocalyptic world Margaret Atwood conjured in her 2003 novel, Oryx and Crake. Devastating climate change and a human-engineered plague have sent the inhabitants of the earth into hiding. Among the survivors are Ren and Toby, two young women who belong to an extremist group of environmentalists called God’s Gardeners. Led by Adam One, the group is dedicated to both science and religion. Taking refuge from the plague, Ren is stuck in a sex club, while Toby is confined to a spa. Both hope for contact from the outside world and speculate as to who among their friends and loved ones may not have survived. Meanwhile, Adam One guides a small group of refugees through a desolate landscape, and his sermons on eco-religion serve to authenticate Atwood’s richly conceived universe. A strange and beautiful work, this masterful narrative proves that Atwood can do anything as a novelist. A reading group guide is available.