2017 Great Group Reads
Each year, we at WNBA feel privileged that through our Great Group Reads (GGR) program we get the chance to read the some of the most incredible books ever written. We get to learn about new ideas, experience new cultures, and learn about, well, so much.
This year’s list features the first graphic novel chosen for GGR.
We went to the circus, inside an eco-terrist group, to a Victorian boarding school, and beyond. We caught glimpses into the sacrifices artists make for their art. We delivered news to those in post-Civil War Texas, and escaped Nazis in pre-war Poland.
We see several views of what family life can be like — the beautiful and the ugly. And we follow several families over multiple generations.
We hope you’ll read as many books as you can and enjoy them just as much as we do. If you talk about them on social media, you can use #GreatGroupReads.
If you’d like to read the books from the GGR list with others but don’t have a group to share the list with, we invite you to join the Bookwoman Book Club, which exclusively reads GGR books. All members are welcome.
We hope you’ll enjoy the list. Feel free to share it!
The Best of Us: A Memoir
by Joyce Maynard
Publication Date: September 11, 2017
Categories: memoir, women, family, illness
Winter 2018 Reading Group Indie Next List
In 2011, when she was in her late fifties, beloved author and journalist Joyce Maynard met the first true partner she had ever known. Jim wore a rakish hat over a good head of hair; he asked real questions and gave real answers; he loved to see Joyce shine, both in and out of the spotlight; and he didn’t mind the mess she made in the kitchen. He was not the husband Joyce imagined, but he quickly became the partner she had always dreamed of.
Before they met, both had believed they were done with marriage, and even after they married, Joyce resolved that no one could alter her course of determined independence. Then, just after their one-year wedding anniversary, her new husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. During the nineteen months that followed, as they battled his illness together, she discovered for the first time what it really meant to be a couple — to be a true partner and to have one.
This is their story. Charting the course through their whirlwind romance, a marriage cut short by tragedy, and Joyce’s return to singleness on new terms, The Best of Us is a heart-wrenching, ultimately life-affirming reflection on coming to understand true love through the experience of great loss.
The Clay Girl
by Heather Tucker
Publication Date: October 11, 2016
Categories: literary, family, coming-of-age, abuse, addiction
Winter 2018 Reading Group Indie Next List; Shortlisted for the 2017 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize; Shortlisted for the 2017 Atlantic Book Awards
A deeply compassionate novel about a gentle child who radiates goodness and the way that light refracts — even in the harshest of circumstances.
For the Appleton sisters, life has unravelled many times before. But with a sudden gunshot, it finally explodes.
In the aftermath of chaos and tragedy, eight-year-old Hariet Appleton, known to all as Ari, is shipped off to Cape Breton and her Aunt Mary, who is purported to eat little girls. But Mary and her partner, Nia, offer an unexpected refuge to Ari and her steadfast companion, Jasper, an imaginary seahorse. Yet the respite does not last, and Ari is forced to return to her addiction-addled mother and broken sisters.
Through the sexual revolution and drug culture of the 1960s, Ari struggles with her father’s legacy and her mother’s addictions, testing limits with substances that numb and men who show her kindness. Through it all, her epic imagination colors her grim reality. Ari spins through a chaotic decade of loss and love with wit, tenacity, and the astonishing balance unique to seahorses.
The Clay Girl is a beautiful tour de force with the voice of an unforgetting child, sculpted by kindness, cruelty, and the extraordinary power of imagination.
The Heart’s Invisible Furies
by John Boyne
Publication Date: March 6, 2018
Categories: LGBTQ+, faith, coming-of-age, family
September 2017 Indie Next List; Winner of the 2018 Goldsboro Books Glass Bell Award
Cyril Avery is not a real Avery — or at least, that’s what his adoptive parents tell him. And he never will be. But if he isn’t a real Avery, then who is he?
Born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community and adopted by a well-to-do if eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun, Cyril is adrift in the world, anchored only tenuously by his heartfelt friendship with the infinitely more glamourous and dangerous Julian Woodbead. At the mercy of fortune and coincidence, he will spend a lifetime coming to know himself and where he came from — and over his many years, will struggle to discover an identity, a home, a country, and much more.
In this, Boyne’s most transcendent work to date, we are shown the story of Ireland from the 1940s to today through the eyes of one ordinary man. The Heart’s Invisible Furies is a novel to make you laugh and cry while reminding us all of the redemptive power of the human spirit.
The Hearts of Men
by Nickolas Butler
Publication Date: December 26, 2017
Categories: literary, family, coming-of-age
Camp Chippewa, 1962. Nelson Doughty, age thirteen, social outcast and overachiever, is the Bugler, sounding the reveille proudly each morning. Yet this particular summer marks the beginning of an uncertain and tenuous friendship with a popular boy named Jonathan.
Over the years, Nelson, irrevocably scarred from the Vietnam War, becomes Scoutmaster of Camp Chippewa, while Jonathan marries, divorces, and turns his father’s business into a highly profitable company. And when something unthinkable happens at a camp get-together with Nelson as Scoutmaster and Jonathan’s teenage grandson and daughter-in-law as campers, the aftermath demonstrates the depths — and the limits — of Nelson’s selflessness and bravery.
The Hearts of Men is a sweeping, panoramic novel about the slippery definitions of good and evil, family and fidelity, the challenges and rewards of lifelong friendships, the bounds of morality — and redemption.
Kinship of Clover
by Ellen Meeropol
Publication Date: April 04, 2017
Categories: literary, thrillers environment
He was nine when the vines first wrapped themselves around him and burrowed into his skin. Now a college botany major, Jeremy is desperately looking for a way to listen to the plants and stave off their extinction. But when the grip of the vines becomes too intense and Health Services starts asking questions, he flees to Brooklyn, where fate puts him face to face with a group of climate-justice activists who assure him they have a plan to save the planet, and his plants.
As the group readies itself to make a big Earth Day splash, Jeremy soon realizes these eco-terrorists’ devotion to activism might have him – and those closest to him – tangled up in more trouble than he was prepared to face.
With the help of a determined, differently abled flame from his childhood, Zoe; her deteriorating, once-rabble-rousing grandmother; and some shocking and illuminating revelations from the past, Jeremy must weigh completing his mission to save the plants against protecting the ones he loves and confront the most critical question of all: how do you stay true to the people you care about while trying to change the world?
From the author of House Arrest and On Hurricane Island comes a thrilling new activist novel that begs the question, “How far is too far?”
Last Things: A Graphic Memoir of Love and Loss
by Marissa Moss
Publication Date: May 1, 2017
Categories: memoir, family, illness
May 2017 Indie Next List
Last Things is the true and intensely personal story of how one woman coped with the devastating effects of a catastrophic illness in her family.
Using her trademark mix of words and pictures to sharp effect, Marissa Moss presents the story of how she, her husband, and her three young sons struggled to maintain their sense of selves and wholeness as a family and how they continued on with everyday life when the earth shifted beneath their feet.
After returning home from a year abroad, Marissa’s husband, Harvey, was diagnosed with ALS. The disease progressed quickly, and Marissa was soon consumed with caring for Harvey while trying to keep life as normal as possible for her young children. ALS stole the man who was her husband, the father of her children, and her best friend in less than seven months.
This is not a story about the redemptive power of a terminal illness. It is a story of resilience — of how a family managed to survive a terrible loss and grow in spite of it. Although it’s a sad story, it’s powerfully told and ultimately uplifting as a guide to strength and perseverance, to staying connected to those who matter most in the midst of a bleak upheaval. If you’ve ever wondered how you would cope with a dire diagnosis, this book can provide a powerful example of what it feels like and how to come through the darkness into the light.
The Life She Was Given
by Ellen Marie Wiseman
Publication Date: July 25, 2017
Categories: historical, coming-of-age, abuse
On a summer evening in 1931, Lilly Blackwood glimpses circus lights from the grimy window of her attic bedroom. Lilly isn’t allowed to explore the meadows around Blackwood Manor. She’s never even ventured beyond her narrow room. Momma insists it’s for Lilly’s own protection, that people would be afraid if they saw her. But on this unforgettable night, Lilly is taken outside for the first time — and sold to the circus sideshow.
More than two decades later, nineteen-year-old Julia Blackwood has inherited her parents’ estate and horse farm. For Julia, home was an unhappy place full of strict rules and forbidden rooms, and she hopes that returning might erase those painful memories. Instead, she becomes immersed in a mystery involving a hidden attic room and photos of circus scenes featuring a striking young girl.
At first, The Barlow Brothers’ Circus is just another prison for Lilly. But in this rag-tag, sometimes brutal world, Lilly discovers strength, friendship, and a rare affinity for animals. Soon, thanks to elephants Pepper and JoJo and their handler, Cole, Lilly is no longer a sideshow spectacle but the circus’s biggest attraction . . . until tragedy and cruelty collide.
It will fall to Julia to learn the truth about Lilly’s fate and her family’s shocking betrayal, and find a way to make Blackwood Manor into a place of healing at last. Moving between Julia and Lilly’s stories, Ellen Marie Wiseman portrays two extraordinary, very different women in a novel that, while tender and heartbreaking, offers moments of joy and indomitable hope.
by Shanthi Sekaran
Publication Date: September 5, 2017
Categories: literary, women, immigration, racism
In this astonishing novel, Shanthi Sekaran gives voice to the devotion and anguish of motherhood through two women bound together by their love for one boy. Soli, a young undocumented Mexican woman in Berkeley, CA, finds that motherhood offers her an identity in a world where she’s otherwise invisible. When she is placed in immigrant detention, her son comes under the care of Kavya, an Indian-American wife overwhelmed by her own impossible desire to have a child. As Soli fights for her son, Kavya builds her love on a fault line, her heart wrapped around someone else’s child.
Exploring the ways in which dreams and determination can reshape a family, Sekaran transforms real life into a thing of beauty. From rural Oaxaca to Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto to the dreamscapes of Silicon Valley, Lucky Boy offers a moving and revelatory look at the evolving landscape of the American dream and the ever-changing borders of love.
Mothers and Other Strangers
by Gina Sorell
Publication Date: May 02, 2017
Categories: women, literary, family
My father proposed to my mother at gunpoint when she was nineteen, and knowing that she was already pregnant with a dead man’s child, she accepted.”
Thus begins this riveting story of a woman’s quest to understand her recently deceased mother, a glamorous, cruel narcissist who left her only child, Elsie, an inheritance of debts and mysteries. While coping with threats that she suspects are coming from the cult-like spiritual program her mother belonged to, Elsie works to unravel the message her dying mother left for her, a quest that ultimately takes her to the South African family homestead she never knew existed.
News of the World
by Paulette Jiles
Publication Date: October 4, 2016
Categories: literary, historical, western
National Book Award Finalist-Fiction; October 2016 Indie Next List
In the aftermath of the Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this exquisitely rendered, morally complex, multilayered novel of historical fiction from the author of Enemy Women that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust.
In the wake of the Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.
In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.
Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forming a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.
Arriving in San Antonio, the reunion is neither happy nor welcome. The captain must hand Johanna over to an aunt and uncle she does not remember — strangers who regard her as an unwanted burden. A respectable man, Captain Kidd is faced with a terrible choice: abandon the girl to her fate or become — in the eyes of the law — a kidnapper himself.
One Good Mama Bone
by Bren McClain
Publication Date: February 14, 2017
Categories: historical, Southern fiction
2017 Pulpwood Queens’ Book of the Year; Winner, the 2019 Patricia Winn Prize for Southern Literature; Winner, the 2017 Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction
Set in early 1950s rural South Carolina, One Good Mama Bone chronicles Sarah Creamer’s quest to find her “mama bone,” after she is left to care for a boy who is not her own but instead is the product of an affair between her husband and her best friend and neighbor, a woman she calls “Sister.” When her husband drinks himself to death, Sarah, a dirt-poor homemaker with no family to rely on and the note on the farm long past due, must find a way for her and young Emerson Bridge to survive. But the more daunting obstacle is Sarah’s fear that her mother’s words, seared in her memory since she first heard them at the age of six, were a prophesy, “You ain’t got you one good mama bone in you, girl.”
When Sarah reads in the local newspaper that a boy won $680 with his Grand Champion steer at the recent 1951 Fat Cattle Show & Sale, she sees this as their financial salvation and finds a way to get Emerson Bridge a steer from a local farmer to compete in the 1952 show. But the young calf is unsettled at Sarah’s farm, crying out in distress and growing louder as the night wears on. Some four miles away, the steer’s mother hears his cries and breaks out of a barbed-wire fence to go in search of him. The next morning Sarah finds the young steer quiet, content, and nursing a large cow. Inspired by the mother cow’s act of love, Sarah names her Mama Red. And so Sarah’s education in motherhood begins with Mama Red as her teacher.
But Luther Dobbins, the man who sold Sarah the steer, has his sights set on winning too, and, like Sarah, he is desperate, but not for money. Dobbins is desperate for glory, wanting to regain his lost grand-champion dynasty, and he will stop at nothing to win. Emboldened by her lessons from Mama Red and her budding mama bone, Sarah is committed to victory even after she learns the winning steer’s ultimate fate. Will she stop at nothing, even if it means betraying her teacher?
McClain’s writing is distinguished by a sophisticated and detailed portrayal of the day-to-day realities of rural poverty and an authentic sense of time and place that marks the best southern fiction. Her characters transcend their archetypes and her animal-as-teacher theme recalls the likes of Water for Elephants and The Art of Racing in the Rain. One Good Mama Bone explores the strengths and limitations of parental love, the healing power of the human-animal bond, and the ethical dilemmas of raising animals for food.
by Min Jin Lee
Publication Date: November 14, 2017
Categories: literary, cultural heritage, family, Asian American
National Book Award Finalist; 2018 Dayton Literary Peace Prize Finalist; Medici Book Club Prize Winner; February 2017 Indie Next List
In this bestselling novel, four generations of a poor Korean immigrant family fight to control their destiny in 20th-century Japan, exiled from a home they never knew.
Profoundly moving and gracefully told, Pachinko follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them. Betrayed by her wealthy lover, Sunja finds unexpected salvation when a young tubercular minister offers to marry her and bring her to Japan to start a new life.
So begins a sweeping saga of exceptional people in exile from a homeland they never knew and caught in the indifferent arc of history. In Japan, Sunja’s family members endure harsh discrimination, catastrophes, and poverty, yet they also encounter great joy as they pursue their passions and rise to meet the challenges this new home presents. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, they are bound together by deep roots as their family faces enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.
The Redemption of Galen Pike
by Carys Davis
Publication Date: April 11, 2017
Categories: literary, historical, short stories
2015 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award Winner; April 2017 Indie Next List
From the orange desert of rural Australia to the snowy wastes of Siberia, from a Colorado jailhouse to a town square in northern England, Carys Davies’ characters traverse expanses of solitude: restless teenagers, middle-aged civil servants, and Quaker spinsters contend with domestic abuse, marital strife and a myriad of other challenges — revealing, through their struggles, the secrets of the human heart.
The seventeen stories in this lauded collection — written with prickly wit and punch, “as if Mark Twain and Annie Proulx had sat down at a desk together” — established Carys Davies among the strongest literary voices in Britain. The Redemption of Galen Pike introduces readers to an author destined for international acclaim.
by Hala Alyan
Publication Date: May 2, 2017
Categories: literary, historical, cultural heritage, immigration, war, family
Dayton Literary Peace Prize Winner; Arab American Book Award Winner; Summer 2018 Reading Group Indie Next List
On the eve of her daughter Alia’s wedding, Salma reads the girl’s future in a cup of coffee dregs. She sees an unsettled life for Alia and her children; she also sees travel and luck. While she chooses to keep her predictions to herself that day, they will all soon come to pass when the family is uprooted in the wake of the Six-Day War of 1967.
Lyrical and heartbreaking, Salt Houses follows three generations of a Palestinian family and asks us to confront that most devastating of all truths: you can’t go home again.
by Dan Vyleta
Publication Date: June 27, 2017
Categories: fantasy, historical, coming of age
Readers of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and Arcadia by Iain Pears are sure to be mesmerized by Dan Vyleta’s thrilling blend of Dickensian historical fiction and fantasy, as three young friends scratch the surface of the grown-up world to discover startling wonders — and dangerous secrets.
In an alternate Victorian England, those who are wicked are marked by the smoke that pours out of their bodies. The aristocracy are clean, proof of their virtue and right to rule, while the lower classes are drenched in sin and soot.
Thomas Argyle is the only son of a wayward aristocrat. Charlie Cooper is his best friend. When Thomas finds himself under the boot heel of a sadistic headboy in the treacherous halls of their elite boarding school, he and Charlie begin to question the rules of their society. Then the boys meet Livia, the daughter of a wealthy and powerful family. She leads them to a secret laboratory where they learn that smoke may not be as it seems, and together they set out to uncover the truth about their world.
So Much Blue
by Percival Everett
Publication Date: June 16, 2017
Categories: literary, artists
June 2017 Indie Next List
Kevin Pace is working on a painting that he won’t allow anyone to see: not his children, not his best friend Richard, not even his wife, Linda. The painting is a canvas of twelve feet by twenty-one feet (and three inches) that is covered entirely in shades of blue. It may be his masterpiece or it may not; he doesn’t know or more accurately doesn’t care.
What Kevin does care about are the events of the past. Ten years ago he had an affair with a young watercolorist in Paris. Kevin relates this event with a dispassionate air, even a bit of puzzlement. It’s not clear to him why he had the affair, but he can’t let it go. In the more distant past of the late seventies, Kevin and Richard traveled to El Salvador on the verge of war to retrieve Richard’s drug-dealing brother, who had gone missing without explanation. As the events of the past intersect with the present, Kevin struggles to justify the sacrifices he’s made for his art and the secrets he’s kept from his wife.
So Much Blue features Percival Everett at his best, and his deadpan humor and insightful commentary about the artistic life culminate in a brilliantly readable new novel.
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
by Lisa See
Publication Date: March 21, 2017
Categories: literary, women, environment, Asian American
April 2017 Indie Next List
In their remote mountain village, Li-yan and her family align their lives around the seasons and the farming of tea. For the Akha people, ensconced in ritual and routine, life goes on as it has for generations — until a stranger appears at the village gate in a jeep, the first automobile any of the villagers has ever seen.
The stranger’s arrival marks the first entrance of the modern world in the lives of the Akha people. Slowly, Li-yan, one of the few educated girls on her mountain, begins to reject the customs that shaped her early life. When she has a baby out of wedlock — conceived with a man her parents consider a poor choice — she rejects the tradition that would compel her to give the child over to be killed, and instead leaves her, wrapped in a blanket with a tea cake tucked in its folds, near an orphanage in a nearby city.
As Li-yan comes into herself, leaving her insular village for an education, a business, and city life, her daughter, Haley, is raised in California by loving adoptive parents. Despite her privileged childhood, Haley wonders about her origins. Across the ocean Li-yan longs for her lost daughter. Over the course of years, each searches for meaning in the study of Pu’er, the tea that has shaped their family’s destiny for centuries.
A powerful story about circumstances, culture, and distance, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lanepaints an unforgettable portrait of a little known region and its people and celebrates the bond of family.
The Velveteen Daughter
by Laurel Davis Huber
Publication Date: July 11, 2017
Categories: literary, biographical, historical, artists, mental health, family
The Velveteen Daughter reveals for the first time the true story of two remarkable women: Margery Williams Bianco, the author of one of the most beloved children’s books of all time, The Velveteen Rabbit, and her daughter Pamela, a world-renowned child prodigy artist whose fame at one time greatly eclipses her mother’s. But celebrity at such an early age exacts a great toll. Pamela’s dreams elude her as she struggles with severe depressions, an overbearing father, an obsessive love affair, and a spectacularly misguided marriage.
Throughout, her life raft is her mother. The glamorous art world of Europe and New York in the early 20th century and a supporting cast of luminaries ― Eugene O’Neill and his wife Agnes (Margery’s niece), Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, and Richard Hughes, author of A High Wind in Jamaica ― provide a vivid backdrop to the Biancos’ story. From the opening pages, the novel will captivate readers with its multifaceted and illuminating observations on art, family, and the consequences of genius touched by madness.
We Were the Lucky Ones
by Georgia Hunter
Publication Date: February 14, 2017
Categories: biographical, historical, Jewish, cultural heritage, family, war
It is the spring of 1939 and three generations of the Kurc family are doing their best to live normal lives, even as the shadow of war grows closer. The talk around the family Seder table is of new babies and budding romance, not of the increasing hardships threatening Jews in their hometown of Radom, Poland. But soon the horrors overtaking Europe will become inescapable, and the Kurcs will be flung to the far corners of the world, each desperately trying to navigate his or her own path to safety.
As one sibling is forced into exile, another attempts to flee the continent, while others struggle to escape certain death, either by working grueling hours on empty stomachs in the factories of the ghetto or by hiding as gentiles in plain sight. Driven by an unwavering will to survive and by the fear that they may never see one another again, the Kurcs must rely on hope, ingenuity, and inner strength to persevere.
An extraordinary, propulsive novel, We Were the Lucky Ones demonstrates how in the face of the twentieth century’s darkest moment, the human spirit can endure and even thrive.
The Woman Next Door
by Yewande Omotoso
Publication Date: February 7, 2017
Categories: literary, women, friendship
The U.S. debut of an award-winning writer, in which an unexpected friendship blossoms in contemporary Cape Town — and in a community where loving thy neighbor is easier said than done.
Hortensia James and Marion Agostino are neighbors. One is black, the other white. Both are successful women with impressive careers. Both have recently been widowed, and are living with questions, disappointments, and secrets that have brought them shame. And each has something that the woman next door deeply desires.
Sworn enemies, the two share a hedge and a deliberate hostility, which they maintain with a zeal that belies their age. But, one day, an unexpected event forces Hortensia and Marion together. As the physical barriers between them collapse, their bickering gradually softens into conversation and, gradually, the two discover common ground. But are these sparks of connection enough to ignite a friendship, or is it too late to expect these women to change?
About Great Group Reads
Started as an initiative in 2009 for the Women’s National Book Association’s National Reading Group Month program, Great Group Reads is a list of recommended books perfect for shared reading. The list is released annually in time to celebrate National Reading Group Month in October.
“Booklist and the American Library Association share the Women’s National Book Association’s mission to get the word out about worthy and exciting books, and to encourage reading and book discussion. To commune privately with a book, then share the thoughts and feelings, questions and realizations that a book inspires is to expand and deepen one’s life and sense of connection. Booklist is delighted to join in the celebration of National Reading Group Month and the Great Group Reads selections.” — Donna Seaman, Editor, Adult Books, Booklist