2020 Great Group Reads
The 2020 Great Group Reads selections have been chosen!
This year’s list features books from a wide-range of styles and from authors with diverse backgrounds.
On this list, you can find stories about social issues such as racism, immigration, LGBTQ+, mental health, and war.
You can find stories about families that explore the highs of love and the lows of grief.
While some books are contemporary and some are historical, the themes explored are universal and serve as fantastic conversation starters for your book group or as catalysts for reflection if you are reading the books on your own.
We hope you’ll read as many books as you can and enjoy them as much as we do. If you talk about them on social media, use #GreatGroupReads.
And if you are looking for a book club to join, the Bookwoman Book Club exclusively reads books from the GGR lists.
We hope you’ll join us in celebrating these fantastic reads!
Anna Eva Mimi Adam
by Marina Antropow Cramer
Publication Date: February 13, 2020
Categories: family dynamics, trauma, mothers and daughters
Three generations of women suffer the consequences of a single violent act. Mimi has no memory of the beating she endured at her mother Eva’s hand. Both struggle to understand and perhaps overcome the detachment that defines their adult relationship. Eva’s gentle mother, Anna, who witnessed and stopped the event, becomes a thorn in Eva’s conscience, a constant unwitting reminder of her shame and self-loathing. Adam, Mimi’s small son, occupies the center of this troubled family. He knows nothing of the cause, but is a precocious observer who, unawares, uses the best of his open nature and the purity of his child’s love to move the women toward healing.
The Beauty of Your Face
by Sahar Mustafah
Publication Date: September 30, 2019
Categories: literary, Own Voices, immigrants, school shooting, religion, racism, family life
The Beauty of Your Face tells a uniquely American story in powerful, evocative prose. Afaf Rahman, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, is the principal of a Muslim school in the Chicago suburbs. One morning, a shooter ― radicalized by the online alt-right ― attacks the school. As Afaf listens to his terrifying progress, we are swept back through her memories, and into a profound and “moving” (Bustle) exploration of one woman’s life in a nation at odds with its ideals.
by Pilar Quintana, Lisa Dillman (Translator)
Publication Date: August 04, 2020
Categories: women, motherhood, poverty, Hispanic & Latino, psychological
Longlisted for 2020 The National Book Award in Translated Literature
Colombia’s Pacific coast, where everyday life entails warding off the brutal forces of nature. In this constant struggle, nothing is taken for granted. Damaris lives with her fisherman husband in a shack on a bluff overlooking the sea. Childless and at that age “when women dry up,” as her uncle puts it, she is eager to adopt an orphaned puppy. But this act may bring more than just affection into her home. The Bitch is written in a prose as terse as the villagers, with storms ― both meteorological and emotional ― lurking around each corner. Beauty and dread live side by side in this poignant exploration of the many meanings of motherhood and love.
by Alex Myers
Publication Date: September 30, 2019
Categories: literary, Own Voices, LGBTQ+, transgender, Western, coming-of-age
Go West, Young Man. Isn’t that the advice every East coast boy has considered at least once in his life?
At 19, almost 20, Ron Bancroft thinks those words sound pretty good. Newly out as transgender, Ron finds himself adrift: kicked out by his family, jilted by his girlfriend, unable to afford to return to college in the fall. So he heads out to Wyoming for a new start, a chance to prove that ― even though he was raised as a girl, even though everyone in Boston thinks of him as transgender ― he can live as a man. A real man.
In Wyoming, he finds what he was looking for: rugged terrain, wranglers, a clean slate. He also stumbles into a world more dangerous than he imagined, one of bigotry and violence. And he falls for an intriguing young woman, who seems as interested in him as he is in her. Thus begins Ron’s true adventure, a search not for the right place in America, but the right place within himself to find truth, happiness, and a sense of belonging.
Categories: literary, historical, immigrants, Australia, racism, women
September 2020 Indie Next List
The author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Orphan Train returns with an ambitious, emotionally resonant novel about three women whose lives are bound together in nineteenth-century Australia and the hardships they weather together as they fight for redemption and freedom in a new society.
Seduced by her employer’s son, Evangeline, a naïve young governess in early nineteenth-century London, is discharged when her pregnancy is discovered and sent to the notorious Newgate Prison. After months in the fetid, overcrowded jail, she learns she is sentenced to “the land beyond the seas,” Van Diemen’s Land, a penal colony in Australia. Though uncertain of what awaits, Evangeline knows one thing: the child she carries will be born on the months-long voyage to this distant land.
During the journey on a repurposed slave ship, the Medea, Evangeline strikes up a friendship with Hazel, a girl little older than her former pupils who was sentenced to seven years transport for stealing a silver spoon. Canny where Evangeline is guileless, Hazel — a skilled midwife and herbalist — is soon offering home remedies to both prisoners and sailors in return for a variety of favors.
Though Australia has been home to Aboriginal people for more than 50,000 years, the British government in the 1840s considers its fledgling colony uninhabited and unsettled, and views the natives as an unpleasant nuisance. By the time the Medea arrives, many of them have been forcibly relocated, their land seized by white colonists. One of these relocated people is Mathinna, the orphaned daughter of the Chief of the Lowreenne tribe, who has been adopted by the new governor of Van Diemen’s Land.
In this gorgeous novel, Christina Baker Kline brilliantly recreates the beginnings of a new society in a beautiful and challenging land, telling the story of Australia from a fresh perspective, through the experiences of Evangeline, Hazel, and Mathinna. While life in Australia is punishing and often brutally unfair, it is also, for some, an opportunity: for redemption, for a new way of life, for unimagined freedom. Told in exquisite detail and incisive prose, The Exiles is a story of grace born from hardship, the unbreakable bonds of female friendships, and the unfettering of legacy.
by Chelsea Bieker
Publication Date: March 31, 2020
Categories: literary, cults, teen pregnancy, environment
April 2020 Indie Next List
Drought has settled on the town of Peaches, California. The area of the Central Valley where fourteen-year-old Lacey May and her alcoholic mother live was once an agricultural paradise. Now it’s an environmental disaster, a place of cracked earth and barren raisin farms. In their desperation, residents have turned to a cult leader named Pastor Vern for guidance. He promises, through secret “assignments,” to bring the rain everybody is praying for.
Lacey has no reason to doubt the pastor. But then her life explodes in a single unimaginable act of abandonment: her mother, exiled from the community for her sins, leaves Lacey and runs off with a man she barely knows. Abandoned and distraught, Lacey May moves in with her widowed grandma, Cherry, who is more concerned with her taxidermy mouse collection than her own granddaughter. As Lacey May endures the increasingly appalling acts of men who want to write all the rules and begins to uncover the full extent of Pastor Vern’s shocking plan to bring fertility back to the land, she decides she must find her mother no matter what it takes.
Possessed of an unstoppable plot and a brilliantly soulful voice, Godshot is a book of grit and humor and heart, a debut novel about female friendship and resilience, mother-loss and motherhood, and seeking salvation in unexpected places. It introduces a writer who gives Flannery O’Connor’s Gothic parables a Californian twist and who emerges with a miracle that is all her own.
by Bonnie Proudfoot
Publication Date: January 14, 2020
Categories: historical, rural life, Appalachia, short stories, ’60s–’90s
Goshen Road is an elegiac, unvarnished, and empathetic portrait of one working-class family over two decades in rural West Virginia, with sisters Dessie and Billie Price as its urgently beating heart. Bonnie Proudfoot captures them, their husbands, and their children as they balance on the divide between Appalachia old and new, struggling for survival and reconciling themselves with past hurts and future uncertainties as the economy and culture shift around them.
The story opens in 1967 with a logging accident and the teenaged Lux Cranfield’s headlong plunge into the courtship of Dessie — a leap he takes not only in the wake of his near-death experience but to exchange his bitter home life for a future with the Prices, a family that appears to have the stability and peace that his own lacks. Within the year Lux and Dessie marry. Meanwhile, Dessie’s rebellious younger sister, Billie, fights her way through adolescence with an eye toward an escape of her own, only to land with Lux’s friend Alan Ray Munn and settle into a life of hardship. Ultimately, the voices and passions of Dessie, Billie, Lux, Alan Ray, and the Cranfield children build on one another to create an unforgettable chorus about the promises and betrayals of love — and what it takes to preserve a family when everything else is uncertain.
by Ros Anderson
Publication Date: August 25, 2020
Categories: Sci-fi/Dystopian, AI, women, literary
In this stunningly original debut novel that will appeal to readers of The Power or Never Let Me Go, a synthetic woman — created solely to serve her human “Husband” — slowly comes to the realization that her Husband is far less invested in her well-being than she is in his . . . sending her on a harrowing emotional journey of self-realization as she asks herself: WHAT IS LOVE — OR CONSENT — IF YOU’RE PROGRAMMED TO OBEY?
Sylv.ie is a fully sentient robot, designed to cater to her Husband’s every whim. She lives alone on the top floor of his luxurious home, her existence barely tolerated by his human wife and concealed from their child. Between her Husband’s visits, deeply curious about the world beyond her room, Sylv.ie watches the family in the garden — hears them laugh, cry, and argue. Longing to experience more of life, she confides her hopes and fears only to her diary. But are such thoughts allowed? And if not, what might the punishment be?
As Sylv.ie learns more about the world and becomes more aware of her place within it, something shifts inside her. Is she malfunctioning, as her Husband thinks, or coming into her own? As their interactions become increasingly fraught, she fears he might send her back to the factory for reprogramming. If that happens, her hidden diary could be her only link to everything that came before. And the only clue that she is in grave danger.
Set in a recognizable near future and laced with dark, sly humor, Ros Anderson’s deeply observant debut novel is less about the fear of new technology than about humans’ age-old talent for exploitation. In a world where there are now two classes of women — “born” and “created” — the growing friction between them may have far-reaching consequences no one could have predicted.
In Five Years
by Rebecca Serle
Publication Date: March 10, 2020
Categories: women, friendship, cancer, fate, love, family life
March 2020 Indie Next List
Where do you see yourself in five years? Dannie Kohan lives her life by the numbers. She is nothing like her lifelong best friend — the wild, whimsical, believes-in-fate Bella. Her meticulous planning seems to have paid off after she nails the most important job interview of her career and accepts her boyfriend’s marriage proposal in one fell swoop, falling asleep completely content.
But when she awakens, she’s suddenly in a different apartment, with a different ring on her finger, and beside a very different man. Dannie spends one hour exactly five years in the future before she wakes again in her own home on the brink of midnight — but it is one hour she cannot shake. In Five Years is an unforgettable love story, but it is not the one you’re expecting.
In Our Midst
by Nancy Jensen
Publication Date: April 28, 2020
Categories: historical, WWII, internment camps, immigrants
Drawing upon a long-suppressed episode in American history, when thousands of German immigrants were rounded up and interned following the attack on Pearl Harbor, In Our Midst tells the story of one family’s fight to cling to the ideals of freedom and opportunity that brought them to America.
Nina and Otto Aust, along with their teenage sons, feel the foundation of their American lives crumbling when, in the middle of the annual St. Nikolas Day celebration in the Aust Family Restaurant, their most loyal customers, one after another, turn their faces away and leave without a word. The next morning, two FBI agents seize Nina by order of the president, and the restaurant is ransacked in a search for evidence of German collusion.
Ripped from their sons and from each other, Nina and Otto are forced to weigh increasingly bitter choices to stay together and stay alive. Recalling a forgotten chapter in history, In Our Midst illuminates a nation gripped by suspicion, fear, and hatred strong enough to threaten all bonds of love ― for friends, family, community, and country.
by Andrea Goldsmith
Publication Date: November 05, 2019
Categories: historical, exile, art, immigrants, ’80s, literary
It is the mid-1980s. In Australia, stay-at-home wives jostle with want-it-all feminists, while AIDS threatens everyone’s sexual freedom. On the other side of the world, the Soviet bloc is in turmoil.
Mikhail Gorbachev has been in power for a year when twenty-four-year-old book illustrator Galina Kogan leaves Leningrad ― forbidden ever to return. As a Jew, she’s inherited several generations worth of Russia’s chronic anti-Semitism. As a Soviet citizen, she is unprepared for Australia and its easy-going ways.
Once settled in Melbourne, Galina is befriended by Sylvie and Leonard Morrow, and their adult son, Andrew. The Morrow marriage of thirty years balances on secrets. Leonard is a man with conflicted desires and passions, while Sylvie chafes against the confines of domestic life. Their son, Andrew, a successful mosaicist, is a deeply shy man. He is content with his life and work ― until he finds himself increasingly drawn to Galina.
While Galina grapples with the tumultuous demands that come with being an immigrant in Australia, her presence disrupts the lives of each of the Morrows. No one is left unchanged.
Invented Lives tells a story of exile: exile from country, exile at home, and exile from one’s true self.
It is also a story about love.
The Last Goldfish
by Anita Lahey
Publication Date: June 9, 2020
Categories: memoir, friendship, cancer, death/grief
Twenty-five years ago and counting, Louisa, my true, essential, always-there-for-everything friend, died. We were 22.
When Anita Lahey opens her binder in grade nine French and gasps over an unsigned form, the girl with the burst of red hair in front of her whispers, “Forge it!” Thus begins an intense, joyful friendship, one of those powerful bonds forged in youth that shapes a person’s identity and changes the course of a life.
Anita and Louisa navigate the wilds of 1980s suburban adolescence against the backdrop of dramatic world events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall. They make carpe diem their manifesto and hatch ambitious plans. But when Louisa’s life takes a shocking turn, into hospital wards, medical tests, and treatments, a new possibility confronts them, one that alters, with devastating finality, the prospect of the future for them both.
Equal parts humorous and heartbreaking, The Last Goldfish is a poignant memoir of youth, friendship, and the impermanence of life.
by Angie Kim
Publication Date: April 07, 2020
Categories: literary, immigrants, legal drama, autism, thrillers
Winner of the Edgar Award for Best First Novel; May 2019 Indie Next List
The “gripping . . . page-turner” (Time) hitting all the best of summer reading lists, Miracle Creek is perfect for book clubs and fans of Liane Moriarty and Celeste Ng.
How far will you go to protect your family? Will you keep their secrets? Ignore their lies?
In a small town in Virginia, a group of people know each other because they’re part of a special treatment center, a hyperbaric chamber that may cure a range of conditions from infertility to autism. But then the chamber explodes, two people die, and it’s clear the explosion wasn’t an accident.
A powerful showdown unfolds as the story moves across characters who are all maybe keeping secrets, hiding betrayals. Chapter by chapter, we shift alliances and gather evidence: Was it the careless mother of a patient? Was it the owners, hoping to cash in on a big insurance payment and send their daughter to college? Could it have been a protester, trying to prove the treatment isn’t safe?
“A stunning debut about parents, children and the unwavering hope of a better life, even when all hope seems lost” (Washington Post), Miracle Creek uncovers the worst prejudice and best intentions, tense rivalries and the challenges of parenting a child with special needs. It’s “a quick-paced murder mystery that plumbs the power and perils of community” (O Magazine) as it carefully pieces together the tense atmosphere of a courtroom drama and the complexities of life as an immigrant family. Drawing on the author’s own experiences as a Korean-American, former trial lawyer, and mother of a “miracle submarine” patient, this is a novel steeped in suspense and igniting discussion.
Recommended by Erin Morgenstern, Jean Kwok, Jennifer Weiner, Scott Turow, Laura Lippman, and more — Miracle Creek is a brave, moving debut from an unforgettable new voice.
The Prettiest Star
by Carter Sickels
Publication Date: May 19, 2020
Categories: historical, Own Voices, LGBTQ+, ’80s, HIV/AIDS
April 2020 Indie Next List
In the 1980s — at the height of the AIDS crisis, a young, gay, man living with HIV loses his love and chooses to go home to rural Ohio to die. His family, wanting to keep his disease a secret, grapples with their love for him and the sexuality they both fear and hate. Told from multiple perspectives, this is a searing, heart-rending look at bigotry, homophobia, and what home means.
The Road to Urbino
by Roma Tearne
Publication Date: January 14, 2020
Categories: cultural heritage, immigrants, war, racism
“Every act has a past. Events don’t just materialise from nowhere.”
Ras, a Tamil exile in London, is awaiting trial for the theft of a Renaissance masterpiece. Searching for the truth behind her client’s act, Ras’s lawyer, Elizabeth Saunders, must piece together his story and that of enigmatic British writer Alex Benson. The trail she follows leads from Sri Lanka to the hills of Italy where, despite the serenity of the landscape, war’s shadow looms long and large.
A vivid and moving fresco of art, love and loss from the LA Times Prize-shortlisted author of Mosquito and Brixton Beach.
The Royal Abduls
by Ramiza Shamoun Koya
Publication Date: December 23, 2019
Categories: cultural heritage, Own Voices, immigrants, racism, literary, family life
Ramiza Shamoun Koya reveals the devastating cost of anti-Muslim sentiment in The Royal Abduls, her debut novel about a secular Indian-America family. Evolutionary biologist Amina Abdul accepts a post-doc in Washington, DC, choosing her career studying hybrid zones over a faltering West Coast romance. Her brother and sister-in-law welcome her to the city, but their marriage is crumbling, and they soon rely on her to keep their son company. Omar, hungry to understand his roots, fakes an Indian accent, invents a royal past, and peppers his aunt with questions about their cultural heritage. When he brings an ornamental knife to school, his expulsion triggers a downward spiral for his family, even as Amina struggles to find her own place in an America now at war with people who look like her.
With The Royal Abduls, Koya ignites the canon of post-9/11 literature with a deft portrait of second-generation American identity.Evolutionary biologist and loner Amina Abdul studies hybrid zones. When she moves to Washington for a post doc, she lands firmly in the hybrid zone that is her own family who are Muslim Indian immigrants. Part American, Amina’s eleven-year-old nephew Omar is intensely curious about his Indian heritage. Set just a handful of years post 9/11, this is a powerfully written, tender look at immigration, belonging, and connection.
Tea by the Sea
by Donna Hemans
Publication Date: June 9, 2020
Categories: women, immigrants, kidnapping, parenting, literary, family life
To find the daughter taken from her, Plum Valentine must first locate the child’s father, who walked out of a hospital with the day-old baby girl without explanation. Seventeen years later, weary of her unfruitful search, Plum sees an article in a community newspaper with a photo of the man for whom she has spent half her life searching. He has become an Episcopal priest. Her plan: confront him and walk away with the daughter he took from her. From Brooklyn to the island of Jamaica, Tea by the Sea traces Plum’s circuitous route to find her daughter — and explores how Plum’s and the priest’s love came apart.
When Lenworth kidnaps his newborn daughter, he devastates his girlfriend Plum. Plum spends the next 17 years searching for the baby girl she never had a chance to raise. With travels that extend from Jamaica to Brooklyn, this novel examines issues of parenthood, tragedy, identity, redemption, and betrayal.
Tell Me Your Names and I Will Testify
by Carolyn Holbrook
Publication Date: July 21, 2020
Categories: memoir, Own Voices, personal essays, racism
Carolyn Holbrook’s life is peopled with ghosts — of the girl she was, the selves she shed and those who have caught up to her, the wounded and kind and malevolent spirits she’s encountered, and also the beloved souls she’s lost and those she never knew who beg to have their stories told. “Now don’t you go stirring things up,” one ghostly aunt counsels. Another smiles encouragingly: “Don’t hold back, child. Someone out there needs to hear what you have to say.”
Once a pregnant sixteen-year-old incarcerated in the Minnesota juvenile justice system, now a celebrated writer, arts activist, and teacher who helps others unlock their creative power, Holbrook has heeded the call to tell the story of her life, and to find among its chapters — the horrific and the holy, the wild and the charmed — the lessons and necessary truths of those who have come before. In a memoir woven of moments of reckoning, she summons stories born of silence, stories held inside, untold stories stifled by pain or prejudice or ignorance. A child’s trauma recalls her own. An abusive marriage returns to haunt her family. She builds a career while raising five children as a single mother; she struggles with depression and grapples with crises immediate and historical, all while countenancing the subtle racism lurking under “Minnesota nice.”
Here Holbrook poignantly traces the path from her troubled childhood to her leadership positions in the Twin Cities literary community, showing how creative writing can be a powerful tool for challenging racism and the healing ways of the storyteller’s art.
Holbrook’s personal essays tackle an array of topics from life as a single mother to her many professional accomplishments and from racism and discrimination to the importance of finding your voice. She tells the story of her own triumphant survival in a world that knocked her down over and over again.
The Wanting Life
by Mark Rader
Publication Date: February 25, 2020
Categories: LGBTQ+, faith, family life, literary
Set in Rome, Cape Cod, and Wisconsin over the course of the summer of 2009, and Rome during the spring of 1970, The Wanting Life tells the intertwined story of three members of the Novak family: Father Paul, a closeted gay Catholic priest who’s dying of cancer and has secrets he desperately wants to share; Britta, his self-destructive sister and caretaker, who’s struggling to find meaning in a world without her beloved husband; and Maura, Britta’s daughter ― a thirty-nine-year-old artist who’s facing a choice between her husband and two children, or the man she believes is her one, true love.
Featuring one of most unconventional love stories you’ll read this year, The Wanting Life is both a compulsively readable family drama about the toll that secrets and loyalty can take on us, and a gorgeous meditation on the comforts (and limits) of faith and intimacy that calls to mind novels like Marilynne Robinson’s Home, Alice McDermott’s Charming Billy, and Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending.
Parish priest Father Paul is dying of cancer and looking back at a life shaped by faith, expectation, and regret. His sister Britta, who has come to take care of him, is mourning the loss of her husband. And his niece Maura is faced with a choice between a life with her husband and children and the man she believes is the one for her. This is a poignant affirmation that each of us only has one life, and it is our own choices that fill it with joy and sorrow, love and regret, celebration and mourning.
by Adrienne Brodeur
Publication Date: July 7, 2020
Categories: memoir, mothers and daughters, women, parenting
November 2019 Indie Next List
A daughter’s tale of living in the thrall of her magnetic, complicated mother, and the chilling consequences of her complicity.
On a hot July night on Cape Cod when Adrienne was fourteen, her mother, Malabar, woke her at midnight with five simple words that would set the course of both of their lives for years to come: Ben Souther just kissed me.
Adrienne instantly became her mother’s confidante and helpmate, blossoming in the sudden light of her attention, and from then on, Malabar came to rely on her daughter to help orchestrate what would become an epic affair with her husband’s closest friend. The affair would have calamitous consequences for everyone involved, impacting Adrienne’s life in profound ways, driving her into a precarious marriage of her own, and then into a deep depression. Only years later will she find the strength to embrace her life — and her mother — on her own terms.
Wild Game is a brilliant, timeless memoir about how the people close to us can break our hearts simply because they have access to them, and the lies we tell in order to justify the choices we make. It’s a remarkable story of resilience, a reminder that we need not be the parents our parents were to us.
When Rennie’s glamorous mother, Malabar, entrusts Rennie with the knowledge of her affair with her husband’s best friend, Rennie is thrilled to become her mother’s confidante. This memoir of mothers and daughters, complicity, lies, and secrets is astonishing, self-reflective, and honest.
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