The Resurrection of Joan Ashby 
Cherise Wolas, 2017
Flatiron Books
544 pp.

I viewed the consumptive nature of love as a threat to serious women. But the wonderful man I just married believes as I do—work is paramount, absolutely no children—and now love seems to me quite marvelous.

These words are spoken to a rapturous audience by Joan Ashby, a brilliant and intense literary sensation acclaimed for her explosively dark and singular stories.

When Joan finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, she is stunned by Martin’s delight, his instant betrayal of their pact. She makes a fateful, selfless decision then, to embrace her unintentional family.

Challenged by raising two precocious sons, it is decades before she finally completes her masterpiece novel. Poised to reclaim the spotlight, to resume the intended life she gave up for love, a betrayal of Shakespearean proportion forces her to question every choice she has made.

Epic, propulsive, incredibly ambitious, and dazzlingly written, The Resurrection of Joan Ashby is a story about sacrifice and motherhood, the burdens of expectation and genius. Cherise Wolas’s gorgeous debut introduces an indelible heroine candid about her struggles and unapologetic in her ambition. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Raised—Los Angeles, California, USA
Education—B.F.A., New York University; J.D., Loyola University
Currently—lives in New York, New York

Cherise Wolas is a writer, lawyer, and film producer. She received a BFA from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and a JD from Loyola Law School. The Resurrection of Joan Ashby is her debut novel.
A native of Los Angeles, she lives in New York City with her husband. (From the publisher.)

Book Reviews
Love and betrayal and expectation, all encapsulated in the story of one woman, Joan Ashby, and the surprises and disappointments of her life. Wolas' debut turns a critical and perceptive eye onto the complications and expectations of marriage. It’s also gorgeously written. Get into it.
Southern Living

You will not come away unchanged, and you will continue to think about Joan Ashby’s path long after you put this brick down.… [A] masterful (mistress-ful? We need a better modifier …) debut novel that dares to consider whether becoming a mother is worth it, or not.

[L]ong-winded.… The novel, in addition to overextending itself…is frustrating, shallowly addressing its central theme of artistic pursuit versus family, and eventually turns into more of an inspirational primer on Buddhism than character study.
Publishers Weekly

[A]stonishing debut…innovative…brilliant.
Shelf Awareness

(Starred review.)  [L]ayer upon layer of precisely meshed poetic and cinematic scenes to realize a life of such quiet majesty…. Readers not only will mourn coming to the end, they will feel compelled to start over to watch the miracle of this novel unfold again. Breathtaking.
Library Journal

It’s almost impossible to believe that The Resurrection of Joan Ashby…is the first novel by Cherise Wolas, a lawyer and film producer. Gorgeously written and completely captivating, the book spans decades and continents, deftly capturing the tug so many women feel between motherhood and self-identity.

(Starred review.) This breathtaking…novel will do for motherhood what Gone Girl (2012) did for marriage. "A story requires two things: a great story to tell and the bravery to tell it," Joan observes. Wolas’ debut expertly checks off both boxes.

(Starred review.) Like John Irving’s The World According to Garp, this is a look at the life of a writer that will entertain many nonwriters. Like Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, it’s a sharp-eyed portrait of the artist as spouse…. [O]ne wonders how Wolas is possibly going to pay off the idea that her heroine is such a genius. Verdict: few could do better.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Discuss the novel’s title. How is Joan "resurrected" over the course of the novel?

2. Do you agree that "treacheries experienced in childhood are among the most difficult to overcome, or to forgive"? How is Joan shaped by her childhood, and how are her husband and children? Discuss the ways in which treachery affects their family dynamic. What do you believe is the role of nature vs. nurture in terms of ambition success?

3. Daniel reflects:

It is a long-borne burden, knowing what you lack, and I knew what I lacked.… Where, I thought, was the lost and found for discarded genius, from which I could select what I desperately wanted and needed ?" How does this novel define "genius"?

What is the relationship between genius and work in these characters’ lives?

4. Joan says in an interview:

Love was more than simply inconvenient; its consumptive nature always a threat to serious women. I had seen too often what happened to serious women in love, their sudden, unnatural lightheartedness, their new wardrobe of happiness their prior selves would never have worn, the loss of their forward momentum. I wanted no such conversion, no vulnerability to needless distraction.

Do you agree? How do Joan’s views on love shift over the course of the novel?

5. What role do the excerpts of Joan’s stories and novels play in The Resurrection of Joan Ashby? Did you read them as a lens into her character, ambitions, and perspective on motherhood? Do you have a favorite excerpt?

6. Joan asks:

Is motherhood inescapably entwined in female life, a story every woman ends up telling, whether or not she sought or desired that bond; her nourishment, her caretaking, her love, needed by someone standing before her, hands held out, heart demanding succor, commanding her not to look away, but to dig deep, give of herself unstintingly, offer up everything she can?

What would you answer? Discuss the various depictions of motherhood in the novel, including in Joan’s own writing.

7. Joan reflects at one point: "Writers have infinite choices and mothers nearly no choice at all." How do her roles as writer and mother shape her over the course of the novel? Does she ultimately reconcile those two sides of herself?

8. Joan refers to her characters as "her people." Discuss Joan’s different creations, as an author and as a mother. How much control does she have over her characters? Over her children?

9. How do you feel about Joan’s letter to Daniel? Do you think he deserves a second chance? What does the novel suggest about unconditional love within families? Do you think we hold mothers to different standards than fathers when it comes to unconditional love?

10. Vita Brodkey says to Joan: "I will not tell you to be safe, safety is for fools, but remember everything." What is the importance of memory and history in this novel? Discuss Vita’s importance in Joan’s life.

11. Joan finds herself living an"unintended life." What is the relationship between intention and accident in the novel? How much agency do we have in our own stories? How does meditation shape Joan’s quest to live an intended life?

12. Names play a significant role throughout this novel. Discuss Joan’s decision to go by "Ashby" when she is in India. How does she change over the course of the novel, and what role do names play in that transformation?

13. What is the role of place in the narrative? How do Joan’s various homes influence her happiness and creativity? Where does she most belong, and how does she find belonging? How is India, in particular, portrayed, and how does the country itself shape Joan’s transformation?

14. Joan, Martin, Daniel, and Eric all keep secrets from one another. How do those secrets protect or harm them? Are secrets inevitable within families? Do artistic endeavor and genius have their own rules when it comes to openness?

15. When Joan has been in Dharamshala for several months, she finally takes a pilgrimage. Willem meets her on the way, and tells her a pilgrimage doesn’t have to be taken alone. Discuss Joan and Willem’s relationship, and how it differs from Joan’s relationship with Martin.

16. Kartar tells Daniel his name means "Lord of Creation." What does Kartar’s presence in both Daniel’s and Joan’s life mean? How would you characterize his role? Has he shaped his life around the meaning of his name and the stories his own mother told him?

17. If you could leave your life to pursue your dream, where would you go, what would you do?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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The Reason You're Alive 
Matthew Quick, 2017
240 pp.

A timely novel featuring his most fascinating character yet, a Vietnam vet embarking on a quixotic crusade to track down his nemesis from the war.

After sixty-eight-year-old David Granger crashes his BMW, medical tests reveal a brain tumor that he readily attributes to his wartime Agent Orange exposure. He wakes up from surgery repeating a name no one in his civilian life has ever heard—that of a Native American soldier whom he was once ordered to discipline.

David decides to return something precious he long ago stole from the man he now calls Clayton Fire Bear. It may be the only way to find closure in a world increasingly at odds with the one he served to protect. It may also help him to finally recover from his wife’s untimely demise.

As David confronts his past to salvage his present, a poignant portrait emerges: that of an opinionated and good-hearted American patriot fighting like hell to stay true to his red, white, and blue heart, even as the country he loves rapidly changes in ways he doesn’t always like or understand.

Hanging in the balance are Granger’s distant art-dealing son, Hank; his adoring seven-year-old granddaughter, Ella; and his best friend, Sue, a Vietnamese American who respects David’s fearless sincerity.

Through the controversial, wrenching, and wildly honest David Granger, Matthew Quick offers a no-nonsense but ultimately hopeful view of America’s polarized psyche. By turns irascible and hilarious, insightful and inconvenient, David is a complex, wounded, honorable, and loving man.

The Reason You’re Alive examines how the secrets and debts we carry from our past define us; it also challenges us to look beyond our own prejudices and search for the good in us all. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—October 23, 1972
Raised—Oaklyn, New Jersey, USA
Education—B.A., LaSalle University; M.F.A, Goddard College
Currently—lives in Holden, Massachusetts

Matthew Quick is an American author of young adult and fiction novels. His debut novel, The Silver Linings Playbook, was adapted into a movie, starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, with Robert De Niro, Jackie Weaver, and Chris Tucker.

His other novels include Sorta Like a Rockstar (2010), Boy21 (2012), Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock (2013), The Good Luck for Right Now (2014), and The Reason You're Alive. Quick was finalist for a 2009 PEN/Hemingway Award, and his work has been translated into several languages.

Quick grew up in Oaklyn, New Jersey. He has a degree in English literature from La Salle University and an MFA from Goddard College. He left his job as a tenured English teacher in Haddonfield, New Jersey, to write his first novel while living in Collingswood, New Jersey. He now lives in Holden, Massachusetts with his wife, novelist Alicia Bessette. (From Wikipedia. Retrieved 02/17/2014.)

Book Reviews
Inspiring.… Matthew Quick has a way with wounded characters.
Boston Globe

The author of The Silver Linings Playbook delivers another engaging and screen-ready dramedy about an irascible misfit on a mission for closure.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The role of David Granger may someday be played by an Oscar-hungry actor. But that shouldn’t distract from the vivid, high-definition protagonist that already glows from the page.... That candor and honesty gives this first-person narrative its potency. It also supplies the humor.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

It’s impossible not to love each of these deeply flawed characters.…  As funny as it is touching, Quick’s latest effort is on par with Silver Linings.
USA Today

A gratifying romp.… Fans of The Silver Linings Playbook know Quick’s penchant for emotionally troubled, big-hearted characters, and Good Luck will satisfy those readers and new ones alike.

Meet David Granger, the bigoted 68-year-old Vietnam veteran and narrator of Quick’s dark, funny, and surprisingly tender new novel.… Granger’s life is rife with instances that either prove or belie his reputation as a xenophobic, racist homophobe.
Publishers Weekly

Quick delivers an exceptional novel; its themes of war and memory as well as its unforgettable characters, especially the ornery David, fast pace, and insightful dialog will connect with readers of Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried. —Russell Michalak, Goldey-Beacom Coll. Lib., Wilmington, DE
Library Journal

A scorching family drama.…narrated with ire and eloquence by David Granger... It’s as if Holden Caulfield grew up to be a reflective, even soulful, Archie Bunker.… A touching, old-fashioned drama about the ties that sometimes choke, but always bind.

A veteran tries to come to terms with the traumatic experiences he had a generation earlier in Vietnam.… A valuable addition to fiction about the tangled aftereffects of Vietnam on soldiers in the field.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. How would you categorize this novel? Is it a father/son drama, a tale about war’s aftermath, a tragic love story, a political commentary, or something different altogether?

2. How does David’s voice affect the story? How would the story be different if it were told in third person? Or from Henri’s point of view? From Ella’s? Sue’s? Teddy’s? Johnny’s? Timmy’s? Femke’s? Frank’s?

3. How are David and Henri different? How are they similar?

4. If you met David’s son would you call him Henri or Hank? Explain your answer.

5. David was highly influenced by his father’s WWII experience and adopted a worldview that matched his old man’s. Henri was highly influenced by David’s Vietnam War experience, yet David and Henri ended up on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Why?

6. Are words more important than actions, or are actions more important than words?

7. Discuss the women in the story. Why does David love and admire his mother, Jessica, Ella, and Sue? Why does David dislike Femke, Femke’s mother, and Frank’s wife? Why does he mistrust the woman who is recording his confession?

8. Is David’s relationship with his granddaughter, Ella, healthy?

9. Do you think Femke is as insufferable as David makes her out to be? Do you believe that Femke and David will work out their differences in the end? Is that possible?

10. His politically correct minded son labels David a bigot, yet—while he does harbor some antiquated ideas about race and sexuality—David has a diverse group of friends and business associates. What makes Henri think his father is a bigot? Discuss David’s criteria when it comes to separating those he respects from “the morons.”

11. How does David help his wife, Jessica? Reading between the lines, how might David have made things difficult for Jessica?

12. Discuss Jessica’s painting, The Reason You’re Alive. What role does art play in this story?

13. Why does Clayton Fire Bear keep Jessica’s painting? Why does he hang a portrait of his abuser in his home?

14. Why does David assign his Vietnam War nemesis a nom de guerre?

15. Does David’s mistrust of the government (and most authority figures) ever seem exaggerated or comical? Is he paranoid, or is his doubt justified?

16. If David Granger—in full military-issued camouflage—approached you in public and tried to strike up a conversation about politics, how would you react?

17. Is David Granger an honorable human being?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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Blackbird House 
Alice Hoffman, 2004
240 pp.

An evocative work that traces the lives of the various occupants of an old Massachusetts house over a span of two hundred years.

In a rare and gorgeous departure, beloved novelist Alice Hoffman weaves a web of tales, all set in Blackbird House. This small farm on the outer reaches of Cape Cod is a place that is as bewitching and alive as the characters we meet:

Violet, a brilliant girl who is in love with books and with a man destined to betray her; Lysander Wynn, attacked by a halibut as big as a horse, certain that his life is ruined until a boarder wearing red boots arrives to change everything; Maya Cooper, who does not understand the true meaning of the love between her mother and father until it is nearly too late.

From the time of the British occupation of Massachusetts to our own modern world, family after family’s lives are inexorably changed, not only by the people they love but by the lives they lead inside Blackbird House.

These interconnected narratives are as intelligent as they are haunting, as luminous as they are unusual. Inside Blackbird House more than a dozen men and women learn how love transforms us and how it is the one lasting element in our lives. The past both dissipates and remains contained inside the rooms of Blackbird House, where there are terrible secrets, inspired beauty, and, above all else, a spirit of coming home.

From the writer Time has said tells "truths powerful enough to break a reader’s heart" comes a glorious travelogue through time and fate, through loss and love and survival. Welcome to Blackbird House. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—March 16, 1952
Where—New York, New York, USA
Education—B.A., Adelphi Univ.; M.A., Stanford Univ.
Currently—lives in Boston, Massachusetts

Born in the 1950s to college-educated parents who divorced when she was young, Alice Hoffman was raised by her single, working mother in a blue-collar Long Island neighborhood. Although she felt like an outsider growing up, she discovered that these feelings of not quite belonging positioned her uniquely to observe people from a distance. Later, she would hone this viewpoint in stories that captured the full intensity of the human experience.

After high school, Hoffman went to work for the Doubleday factory in Garden City. But the eight-hour, supervised workday was not for her, and she quit before lunch on her first day! She enrolled in night school at Adelphi University, graduating in 1971 with a degree in English. She went on to attend Stanford University's Creative Writing Center on a Mirrellees Fellowship. Her mentor at Stanford, the great teacher and novelist Albert Guerard, helped to get her first story published in the literary magazine Fiction. The story attracted the attention of legendary editor Ted Solotaroff, who asked if she had written any longer fiction. She hadn't — but immediately set to work. In 1977, when Hoffman was 25, her first novel, Property Of, was published to great fanfare.

Since that remarkable debut, Hoffman has carved herself a unique niche in American fiction. A favorite with teens as well as adults, she renders life's deepest mysteries immediately understandable in stories suffused with magic realism and a dreamy, fairy-tale sensibility. (In a 1994 article for the New York Times, interviewer Ruth Reichl described the magic in Hoffman's books as a casual, regular occurrence — " offhand that even the most skeptical reader can accept it.") Her characters' lives are transformed by uncontrollable forces — love and loss, sorrow and bliss, danger and death.

Hoffman's 1997 novel Here on Earth was selected as an Oprah Book Club pick, but even without Winfrey's powerful endorsement, her books have become huge bestsellers — including three that have been adapted for the movies: Practical Magic (1995), The River King (2000), and her YA fable Aquamarine (2001).

Hoffman is a breast cancer survivor; and like many people who consider themselves blessed with luck, she believes strongly in giving back. For this reason, she donated her advance from her 1999 short story collection Local Girls to help create the Hoffman Breast Center at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, MA

From a 2003 Barnes & Noble interview:

• Hoffman has written a number of children's books, including Fireflies: A Winter's Tale (1999), Horsefly (2000), and Moondog (2004).

Aquamarine was written for Hoffman's best friend, Jo Ann, who dreamed of the freedom of mermaids as she battled brain cancer.

Here on Earth is a modern version of Hoffman's favorite novel, Wuthering Heights.

• Hoffman has been honored with the Massachusetts Book Award for her teen novel Incantation.

When asked what books most influenced her life or career, here's what she said:

Edward Eager's brilliant series of suburban magic: Half Magic, Magic by the Lake, Magic or Not, Knight's Castle, The Time Garden, Seven-Day Magic, The Well Wishers. Anything by Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, J. D. Salinger, Grace Paley. My favorite book: Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights. (Author bio and interview from Barnes & Noble.)


Book Reviews
[W]ith every loss comes the triumph of the human spirit. Hoffman doesn’t wrap it up with a pretty bow. She makes it real. Her characters survive with grit, persistence, the passage of time, and occasionally, some pretty twisted mental and physical hang-ups. But they are survivors and their survival left its mark on me. READ MORE ……
Kathy Aspden - LitLovers

Fire, water, milk, pears, halibut…play important symbolic and sometimes almost magical roles. This may not be the subtlest of literary devices, but Hoffman's lyrical prose weaves an undeniable spell.
Publishers Weekly

[A] change for Hoffman whose fiction often features…a bit of magic.… [H]haunted-and haunting-characters populate the tales, which are also notable for their intense sense of place. Hoffman's many fans should welcome this little gem with enthusiasm. —Starr E. Smith, Fairfax Cty. P.L., VA
Library Journal

[E]ntrancing.… Hoffman…orchestrates intense romances and profound sacrifices. Those who live in Blackbird House, by turns brilliant, crazy, and courageous, follow their dreams, endure nightmares, and find that their numinous home is as much a part of their being as their parents' DNA.

With a dozen stories, some more clearly connected than others but all set in the same farmhouse on Cape Cod from the time of the British blockade to the present, Hoffman creates a continuous narrative built up through a sense of place.…. A quiet but deeply moving achievement of lyric power.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. How does "The Edge of the World" set the tone for Blackbird House? How would you characterize the house—is it frightening, soothing, mysterious? Did your feelings about the house change as the book unfolded? If so,how?

2. In the opening story, "The Edge of the World," a fisherman and his son are lost at sea. How do they haunt Blackbird House, both literally and figuratively? In which ways are the other characters, themselves floundering and lost, seeking to be found? What other ghosts—both literal and metaphorical—are present in the book?

3. When Coral finds eggs with holes in "The Edge of the World," she views them as omens "of lives unfinished." What other omens does Coral notice? How are these omens similar and different from the signs that Maya’s mother perceives two hundred years later in "India"? How is the white bird an omen?

4. Why do you think that Vincent stays away from his childhood home for so long in "The Edge of the World"?What do you suppose his mother’s reaction is upon his return? Why do you think he is fearless about the sea?

5. The image of drowning courses throughout the book, from the literal loss of life of John and Isaac (in "The Edge of the World") to Lysander’s accident ("The Witch of Truro"), to the characterization of Emma’s parents as "two drowning people" in "The Summer Kitchen." What about the act of drowning is so potent in describing loss, either of life or of love? In which other ways does the power of nature play a role in the book?

6. Love at first sight occurs with many of the couples in Blackbird House. Name them. How does this thunderbolt of passion change and shape their lives? Which couple do you think is best suited for one another in the book? The worst? Do you believe in love at first sight?

7. Sibling relationships are very important in Blackbird House. How does sibling rivalry inform some of them,such as Violet’s relationship with Huley (in "Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair")? How do siblings form a support network for one another, such as Emma and Walker ("The Summer Kitchen" and "Wish You Were Here") and Garnet and Ruby ("The Token")? Which sibling pair do you consider to be the most loving and supportive toward one another? Does one pair remind you of you and your siblings?

8. "I realized I would have to be careful about who I became," Garnet says in "The Token." What drives her toward this revelation? How does Garnet’s relationship with her mother change as a result of it? Who else in the book has an epiphany that’s driven by the behavior of a parent?

9. Why does Larkin promise Lucinda he will "change the world" in "Insulting the Angels"? How is this uncharacteristic of him? What change does Larkin himself want? Why do you think that Lucinda leaves the baby with him and goes off to fight?

10. Violet sees books as a passageway to something greater. How does knowledge broaden her horizons? In what ways does it stifle her? Do you think she’s correct when she wonders, in "Lionheart," if sending Lion to Harvard was the "greatest mistake she’s ever made"? Why are Lion, and his son after him, so adored by Violet?

11. "When he kissed her, he felt as though he were swallowing sadness," thinks Lion, Jr., of his love for Dorey (p. 116, in "The Conjurer’s Handbook"). What about Dorey attracts Lion? How does their relationship overcome its mournful circumstances to take flight? What similarities do Dorey and Violet share?

12. How does Maya turn away from her parents in "India"? In what ways does she emulate her brother in her dismissal of what her parents stand for? Do you think they come to a better comprehension of one another after Kalkin’s death? Why or why not?

13. "Loneliness can become nasty and hopeless," Hoffman writes on page 162. Which characters allow loneliness to fill them with bitterness? In contrast, who enjoys time alone and grows as a result of it?

14. In the book, there’s a reluctance to meddle in the business of others—from "The Wedding of Snow and Ice,"where neighbors ignore the physical abuse occurring next door, to "The Pear Tree," a chronicle of a family’s struggle with a troubled child. Why is the community so hesitant to become involved in these situations? What about Blackbird House might encourage the isolation of its inhabitants? How is this similar to or different from your personal experiences in a community?

15. How does Jamie’s experience in "The Wedding of Snow and Ice" shape the course of his life? What about it sparks his decision to become a doctor? How is he similar and different to Walker, another young boy (in "The Summer Kitchen") who decides to enter the medical profession?

16. Emma wishes for "the person she could have been if she hadn’t been stopped in some way" (p. 219) in "Wish You Were Here." Who else in the book has a dividing line between the person they were and who they are now? Do you have a point in your life that’s as significant? What is it?

17. What compels Emma to reach out to the boy at her door at the end of the book? How does the boy share striking similarities to Isaac in "The Edge of the World"? How does Hoffman bring the story full circle in the novel’s last scene?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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What We Lose 
Zinzi Clemmons, 2017
Penguin Publishing
224 pp.

A stunning novel about a young African-American woman coming of age—a deeply felt meditation on race, sex, family, and country

Raised in Pennsylvania, Thandi views the world of her mother’s childhood in Johannesburg as both impossibly distant and ever present.

She is an outsider wherever she goes, caught between being black and white, American and not. She tries to connect these dislocated pieces of her life, and as her mother succumbs to cancer, Thandi searches for an anchor—someone, or something, to love.

In arresting and unsettling prose, we watch Thandi’s life unfold, from losing her mother and learning to live without the person who has most profoundly shaped her existence, to her own encounters with romance and unexpected motherhood.

Through exquisite and emotional vignettes, Clemmons creates a stunning portrayal of what it means to choose to live, after loss. An elegiac distillation, at once intellectual and visceral, of a young woman’s understanding of absence and identity that spans continents and decades, What We Lose heralds the arrival of a virtuosic new voice in fiction. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—ca. 1984-85
Raised—Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, USA
Education—B.A., Brown University; M.F.A., Columbia University
Currently—lives in Los Angeles, California

Zinzi Clemmons is an American writer, teacher, and editor, whose debut novel What We Lose was published to wide acclaim in 2017. She was raised in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, by a mixed race South African mother and African-American father—and, like her novel's heroine, knows what it feels like to be an outsider. Swarthmore is a mostly white college town (yes, Swarthmore College) outside of Philadelphia: "we were the only black family, and foreign," Clemmons has said. Summers spent in Johannesburg, South Africa, only added to a sense of displacement. And, importantly, like her heroine, she too lost a mother.

Clemmons received her Bachelor's degree at Brown and Master's in Fiction from Columbia. Her writing has appeared in Zoetrope: All-Story, Transition, Paris Review Daily, and elsewhere. She is also a co-founder and former Publisher of Apogee Journal and a Contributing Editor to

Married to poet and translator Andre Naffis-Sahely, Clemmons now lives in Los Angeles where she teaches literature and creative writing at The Colburn Conservatory and Occidental College. (Adapted from various online sources.)

Book Reviews
A stunning debut novel about a young African American woman and the kaleidoscope of identity.
Los Angeles Daily News

Potent.… A loosely autobiographical exorcism of grief. Boldly innovative and frankly sexual, the collage-like novel mixes hand-drawn charts, archival photographs, rap lyrics, sharp disquisitions on the Mandelas and Oscar Pistorius, and singular meditations on racism’s brutal intimacies..… A novel as visceral as it is cerebral, never letting us forget, over the course of its improbably expansive 200 pages, the feeling of untameable grief in the body.… One can’t help but think of Clemmons as in the running to be the next-generation Claudia Rankine.
Megan O’Grady - Vogue

Contrasting what it means to be black in America with being black in Johannesburg, where her mother’s relatives still live, Clemmons presents a brutally honest yet nuanced view of contemporary identity.… Raw and ravishing, this novel pulses with vulnerability and shimmering anger.
Nicole Dennis-Benn - Oprah Magazine

This affecting novel combines autobiographical vignettes with photos and pertinent charts—one tracks longevity by race—as the narrator reckons with her loss.

Remember this name: Zinzi Clemmons. Long may she thrill us with exquisite works like What We Lose, her debut. Young Thandi, our heroine, grows up in Pennsylvania feeling like a fish on a bicycle. Why? As a biracial woman whose mother hails from Johannesburg, South Africa, she struggles to define home. In Clemmons’s hands the book is a remarkable journey.
Patrick Henry Bass - Essence

This intimate novel from a talented new writer follows Thandi, a Philadelphia girl with a South African mom, who has a complicated relationship with her place in the world. Through prose, text messages, photos, and book excerpts, the cornucopia of storytelling activates all the feels.
Steph Opitz - Marie Claire

Clemmons’ debut novel is a stunning work about growing up, losing your parents, and being an outsider. Perfect for fans of tangled immigrant stories like Americanah.

Stunning.… What We Lose doesn’t attempt to answer any of the questions it raises. Instead, it dwells in them—in ways that are sad, sometimes funny—and gives readers a sense of what it’s like to be constantly haunted in that headspace.
Kevin Nguyen -

Zinzi Clemmons’ powerful debut novel tells the story of Thandi, a woman raised in Philadelphia who’s struggling to come to terms with the death of her mother, who left behind a complicated legacy of her own.

This hauntingly honest novel celebrates the coming-of-age tale of a young African-American woman who chooses to live vibrantly in the face of loss, adversity, and devastation. Promised to be one of the most influential new voices in fiction, Zinzi Clemmons is a must for any serious beach reader. This is 2017’s most raw literary display of female emotions.

Exacting reflections on race, mourning, and family are at the center of this novel about a college student whose mother dies of cancer.… Though too restrained, there are some inspired moments, and Clemmons admirably balances the story’s myriad complicated themes.
Publishers Weekly

Raised by a South African mother and an American father, Thandi walks the color line. Then she learns that her mother has cancer. Debuter Clemmons, who has a second novel signed, writes on the Black Lives Matter movement for Literary Hub.
Library Journal

The much-anticipated debut from Clemmons unfolds through poignant vignettes and centers on the daughter of an immigrant. Raised in Philadelphia, Thandi is the daughter of a South African mother and an American father. Her identity is split, and when her mother dies, Thandi begins a moving, multidimensional exploration of grief and loss.

(Starred review.) Spectacular.… Clemmons performs an exceptional sleight of hand that is both affecting and illuminating.

(Starred review.) A big, brainy drama told by a fearless, funny young woman.… Prepare for Thandi’s voice to follow you from room to room long after you put this book away. A compelling exploration of race, migration, and womanhood in contemporary America.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to start a discussion for What We Lose ... then take off on your own:

1. Thandi and her mother's relationship is at the center of this novel. How would you describe it? What issues are at the heart of their disagreements? Consider immigration, motherhood, gender.

2. How would you describe Thandi? What contributes to her sense of feeling like an outsider? Have you ever experienced a sense of not belonging?

3. Follow-up to Question 2: Thandi has been told "But you're not, like, a real black person." How does this add to her sense of alienation?

4. In what ways does her mother's death affect Thandi. Talk about how her grief manifests itself in decisions that may not be the best for her future.

5. Thandi confesses, "My theory is that loneliness creates the feeling of haunting." What does she mean?

6. Zinzi Clemmons' novel is a cornucopia of storytelling. Her narrative incorporates hand-drawn charts, photographs, rap lyrics, philosophical meditations on things as varied as the Mandelas and racism. How do these devices add to or detract from your experience of reading the novel?

7. How is being black in American different from being black in Johannesburg.

8. How does Thandi come to see her place in the world? How does she finally come to grips with her identity? Does she ever find home…or feel at home?

9. This novel, mostly about grief, is in parts funny. Where do you find humor?

10. Talk about the significance of the book's title.

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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Meddling Kids 
Edgar Cantero, 2017
Knopf Doubleday
336 pp.

With raucous humor and brilliantly orchestrated mayhem, Meddling Kids subverts teen detective archetypes like the Hardy Boys, the Famous Five, and Scooby-Doo, and delivers an exuberant and wickedly entertaining celebration of horror, love, friendship, and many-tentacled, interdimensional demon spawn.

The Blyton Summer Detective Club (of Blyton Hills, a small mining town in Oregon’s Zoinx River Valley) solved their final mystery and unmasked the elusive Sleepy Lake monster — another low-life fortune hunter trying to get his dirty hands on the legendary riches hidden in Deboën Mansion. And he would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids.

The former detectives have grown up and apart, each haunted by disturbing memories of their final night in the old haunted house. There are too many strange, half-remembered encounters and events that cannot be dismissed or explained away by a guy in a mask.

And Andy, the once intrepid tomboy now wanted in two states, is tired of running from her demons. She needs answers. To find them she will need Kerri, the one-time kid genius and budding biologist, now drinking her ghosts away in New York with Tim, an excitable Weimaraner descended from the original canine member of the club.

They will also have to get Nate, the horror nerd currently residing in an asylum in Arkham, Massachusetts. Luckily Nate has not lost contact with Peter, the handsome jock turned movie star who was once their team leader … which is remarkable, considering Peter has been dead for years.

The time has come to get the team back together, face their fears, and find out what actually happened all those years ago at Sleepy Lake. It’s their only chance to end the nightmares and, perhaps, save the world.

A nostalgic and subversive trip rife with sly nods to H. P. Lovecraft and pop culture, Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids is a strikingly original and dazzling reminder of the fun and adventure we can discover at the heart of our favorite stories, no matter how old we get. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—May 27, 1981
Where—Barcelona, Spain
Awards—Joan Crexells Prize-Best Novel
Currently—lives in Barcelona, Spain

Edgar Cantanero is a Spanish caetoonist and writer born in Barcelona where he still lives and writes in Spanish, Catalonia (an ancient Romance languge), and English. His first book, Dormir amb Winona Ryder (2007, Sleeping with Winona Ryder), was awarded the Joan Crexells prize for best novel of 2007. It was followed by Vallvi (2011), a punk dystopian thriller

His first U.S. novel (and third book), Supernatural Enhancements, came out in 2014 as a paranormal mystery. It's first-person narrative incorporates journals, postcard images, sketches, and audio-video transcripts. For the most part, the novel received favorable reviews with Kirkus calling it "quirky" and "good fun throughout."

As Cantero recounts on his blog, his second English novel, was the result of a January, 2015, luncheon in New York. He was in the midst of pitching a new book idea to his publisher when he made a rash promise to deliver a finished manuscript in eight months. The only thing, Cantero was bluffing.

Yet to his own amazement, at the end of eight months, he acutally completed the project. That book became Meddling Kids, released in 2017. The story—surrounding members of a former kid's detective club who are now young adults—contains elements of H.P. Lovecraft, as well as Scooby Doo and the Hardy Boys. (From varoius online sources.)

Book Reviews
Cantero will win readers’ hearts with this goofy, smart love letter to childhood adventure and enduring friendship.… [With] a powerful sorcerer who plans to summon a world-ending leviathan. The prose is fast and funny, and the quirky, lovable characters are absolutely irresistible.
Publishers Weekly

Darker than the meddling kids of Scooby Doo fame; from the author of The Supernatural Enhancements.
Library Journal

(Starred review.) Cantero’s imagination is vivid, and the story, once it gains speed, continues at a breakneck, roller-coaster pace. He plays with form and style, which makes for an enjoyable romp. Fans of modern takes on Lovecraft and those that are nostalgic for the cartoons of their childhood will like this novel.

Cantero is a lively, capable writer, but this isn't much of a stretch for him; he seems determined to occupy the middlebrow midrange… Meddling? Middling. A pleasing enough confection, but no great advance for either pop culture or the author's development.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. The opening of the book sees the members of the Blyton Summer Detective Club (BSDC) as adults, and reveals their childhood stories in non-linear episodes. Did you find that this technique created suspense and mystery? How else does Cantero build tension throughout the book?

2. What did you make of BSDC’s choice to go back to Blyton Hills and return to the Deboen Mansion? Would you have made the same decision?

3. For years, Nate has been plagued by hallucinations of the deceased Peter. However, Peter has a real impact on Nate’s choices and actions. How reliable do you consider Nate’s interactions with Peter to be? Are they a figment of imagination or is Peter still an active member of the group?

4. The narrator in Meddling Kids has a very distinct voice and personality. Did you find yourself connecting with the voice? What did the narrative voice add to your reading experience?

5. Meddling Kids draws on archetypes from The Hardy Boys, The Famous Five, and Scooby-Doo—how did your knowledge of characters from those works inform your reading of the novel?

6. The supernatural plot in the book borrows heavily from cosmic horror, H.P. Lovecraft, and the Cthulhu Mythos. How much of those inspirations can you recognize in the scenarios, the props, even the supporting characters in Meddling Kids?

7. Which member of the BSDC do you identify most with? Why?

8. The character of Dunia Deboen, even after the final revelations, is shrouded in mystery: by the end, we know tidbits from her past, but nothing about her true origins–and her future is left open as well. Do you like this ambiguity? Do you think it’s intentional?

9. Were you surprised by the ending of Meddling Kids? If so, what did you expect to happen?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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