Welcome to The Commons. Located an hour and a half outside of Tucson, Arizona, this luxury retirement community is strict in its rules, especially that no one under the age of 55 is allowed to live there. Chaos is unleashed when it’s discovered a resident is permanently taking care of her young grandson. The events unfold from the eyes of three eclectic narrators all dealing poorly with their own personal tragedies: Seth, a young husband, Ben, an older divorcee, and Lily, a teenaged beauty blogger. Breezy yet insightful, You Could be Home by Now by Tracy Manaster is a wacky tale about letting go and moving on.
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Title: Orphan Train
Author: Christina Baker Kline
Page Count: 278 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Tone: Thoughtful, Poignant, Sobering
Summary from publisher:
Penobscot Indian Molly Ayer is close to “aging out” out of the foster care system. A community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping Molly out of juvie and worse…
As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly learns that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.
Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life – answers that will ultimately free them both.
Rich in detail and epic in scope, Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of unexpected friendship, and of the secrets we carry that keep us from finding out who we are.
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.
1. Were the orphan trains a good thing? Why or why not? What, if any, better options were available at the time?
2. What did you notice about the style of writing and how this story was put together?
3. Thinking back on the children that were highlighted in the book, Carmine, Dutchy and Niamh, what were the motivations of the families who took in these orphans? How did these differing motivations affect the children’s lives?
4. What similarities or differences are there between the past as shown in the story and our present foster care system?
5. In what ways are Molly and Vivian similar? How are they different?
6. Do you have things that you don’t use or are stored away but you can’t part with? What are those things and why do you keep them?
7. What would a timeline of Vivian’s life look like? Use a white board to diagram this or just do it verbally. What characterizes each segment of her life?
8. What would a timeline of Molly’s life look like? What characterizes each segment of her life?
9. “You can’t find peace till you find all the pieces.” How is this true in Vivian’s life? How is it true in Molly’s life?
10. Molly’s charms on her necklace are mentioned throughout the story. What is their significance? What did Vivian’s Claddagh cross and Molly’s charms mean to them?
11. How has Molly changed Vivian’s life? How has Vivian changed Molly’s life?
12. Read the prologue aloud to the group. Having read the book and rereading the prologue what does this tell you about Vivian’s view of the people in her past? What does this show about her character?
13. How did you feel about the way the author ended the story? Is Vivian’s happy ending enough?
14. If you were to write additional chapters to the book what would happen to Vivian, to Molly?
15. The American Experience, a PBS show, has a program on the orphan trains. There was also a movie made in 1979 called The Orphan Train. Do you think this book will come to the big screen? Would you want to see it?
If you liked The Orphan Train, try...
Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier is an achingly beautiful fairy tale retelling. Sorcha has lived an idyllic childhood in the Sevenwaters Kingdom until her mother dies, her father marries a cruel woman, and her brothers are turned into swans. Now alone, Sorcha begins the painful journey of trying to get back everything she lost.
Nick Cutter’s claustrophobic sophomore novel, The Deep is an unsettling look at the descent into madness. Across the globe, humans are coming down with a horrendous disease called ’Gets. It starts small. The individuals might forget where a parked car is or a wedding anniversary, but then people forget how to read or tie their shoes, and finally their lungs forget to breathe and their heart forgets to beat. Eight miles below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, a possible cure has been discovered in a research facility, but communication has suddenly gone silent, and it is up to Luke, brother of the genius scientist working on the cure, to reestablish communication. Yet, unimaginable psychological and physical terrors face him, and at eight miles deep there is no escape.
Title: Cutting for Stone
Author: Abraham Verghese
Page Count: 688 pages
Genre: Literary Fiction, Family Sagas
Tone: Haunting, Moving, Richly Detailed
Summary from publisher:
Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon. Orphaned by their mother’s death and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution.
Moving from Addis Ababa to New York City and back again, Cutting for Stone is an unforgettable story of love and betrayal, medicine and ordinary miracles—and two brothers whose fates are forever intertwined
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.
“Writing has many similarities to the practice of internal medicine. Both require astute observation and a fondness for detail.”
“At heart I am a physician. It is my first and only calling. As a physician, things move me, and one way to talk about these things is to write about them. For me writing and medicine are not different parts, it is seamless, the same world view: fiction and healing promote the same cause.
1. As you reflect on this complex story, which scenes stand out in your memory? Why did those particular moments have such impact?
2. At the end of chapter 31 (379-380), Marion reflects on his home, including this statement: “I felt ecstatic, as if I was at the epicenter of our family…” Does this seem arrogant or appropriate for an adolescent to say? In what ways is Marion the epicenter of the book?
3. In what ways is Shiva something of a mystery to the reader? [Also consider, “’What I do is simple. I repair holes,’ said Shiva Praise Stone. Yes, but you make them, too, Shiva.” (577)]
4. Talk about Marion’s parting from his family when he is forced to leave the country (444).
5. Think about how the character of Genet is portrayed at different points. [e.g., “I wanted out of Africa. I began to think that Genet had done me a favor after all.” (457) and “she found her greatness, at last, found it in her suffering.” (601)] How is she integral to the story? How do you feel about her?
6. For a story that most often takes place in small settings with few people, somehow it has an epic “feel”. How is that?
7. When Ghosh returns from prison (350-351), he and Marion talk about a well-known story about a man who couldn’t rid himself of his slippers.
“The slippers in the story mean that everything you see and do and touch, every seed you sow, or don’t sow, becomes part of your destiny.”
Ghosh then shares about his past and has a lesson for Marion.
“I hope one day you see this as clearly as I did…The key to your happiness is to own your slippers, own who you are, own how you look, own your family, own the talents you have, and own the ones you don’t. If you keep saying your slippers aren’t yours, then you’ll die searching, you’ll die bitter, always feeling you were promised more. Not only our actions, but also our omissions, become our destiny.”
Do you agree? Are these sentiments borne out in the novel? What is the role of fate throughout?
8. In what ways is this book about legacy? About exile? Betrayal? Forgiveness?
9. Marion states that he became a physician not to save the world but to heal himself. Do you think he was healed in the end?
10. What do the female characters in the book reveal about what life is like for women in Ethiopia?
11. Did the medical detail add to the novel or detract from it?
12. The latter portion of the book contains commentary on medical practice in America, especially regarding foreign physicians (e.g., 492). Did this seem significant to you?
13. Did “The Afterbird” offer closure for you? For the characters? How did you react to its revelations?
14. Remember Stone’s favorite question? [What treatment in an emergency is administered by ear? words of comfort] How is this poignant, especially given Stone’s choices and manner?
15. What is the role of sexuality in Cutting for Stone? How would you characterize the scenes that are depicted, especially between Marion and Genet?
16. What romantic relationships are central to the story? How so?
17. Though the book earned excellent reviews, it wasn’t in nearly as much demand as it seems to be now. Why do you think that is? With over 600 pages, it isn’t an easy choice for book groups, but that doesn’t seem to be a concern. Did the length bother you?
18. Few works of fiction include a bibliography or an acknowledgment section which credits many literary allusions included in the story. Does this affect your opinion of the book?
19.Verghese said that his aim in writing Cutting for Stone was “to tell a great story, an old-fashioned, truth-telling story.” He has also said “my ambition was to write a big sweeping novel into which you could disappear, travel away as though in a space-ship, disappear, meet exciting people, and return to find that only a couple of days had passed in real life. That’s what happens to me when I am reading a good book.” In your opinion, did he succeed?
Lit Lovers book discussion questions
One Book One City resources
Video of Abraham Verghese discussing Cutting for Stone
Frequently asked questions answered by Abraham Verghese
Radio interview with Verghese on Ethiopia
If you liked Cutting for Stone, try...
Adda Sinclair is a successful romance novelist known for her skill with male characters. If only that insight translated into real life! Her husband left her for her arch-rival, a pretty-boy cover model is more interested than she is, and the attractive publisher with plans to brand her books for male readers keeps her off-balance. What’s a girl with writer’s block and too little romance in her personal life to do? In Stealing Adda, it will take a public scandal, multiple misunderstandings, and a spiritual awakening to illuminate what’s most important. Author Tamara Leigh has created a funny and relatable heroine who comes to realize that roadblocks in life might serve a higher purpose and that perhaps she has it in her to write her own happily ever after.
Every other Friday the Library will bring you short lists of buzz-worthy books in a rotating series of popular genres.
For these and other fresh reads, stop by the second floor Fiction/AV/Teen desk. While there, talk to a Readers’ Advisor about new and old titles tailored to your taste.
New: Historical Fiction Books
New: Romance Books
Jodi is a therapist in a long-term committed relationship with Todd even though Todd is a serial cheater. While not a particularly traditional relationship, as long as they don’t talk about how unfaithful he is, their relationship works. “Men aren’t perfect, ” Jodi tells herself, and life continues to go on: Jodi immerses herself in her own routines, Todd immerses himself in other women, and everything is okay.
Except everything is not okay.
At the beginning of the book Jodi admits she is going to kill Todd. And she does. Alternating between Todd and Jodi as unreliable narrators, A.S.A. Harrison details the slow decent of a woman reaching her snapping point in The Silent Wife.
While the new year has already begun, it is not too late to try living this year a little differently! Tara Bannon Williamson shares books in which the author commits his or herself to accomplish a certain thing for a year. Check out some of the books she mentions below!
Interested in finding more yearly challenges or book reading challenges? Stop by the Fiction/AV/Teen desk on the second floor and speak with a Readers’ Advisor to help you find something that will suit your reading tastes and goals.
Kate is thousands of dollars in debt, her husband found out she cheated on him, her career as a screenwriter is failing, and her father has just committed suicide. Now she is being pushed into a miserable few days as she and her older brother and sister return to Atlanta to face the house, multiple ex-wives, and stepchildren their father has left behind. Reunion is a quirky intimate look at family with all of its dysfunction told from the eyes of Kate, an endearing yet at times cringe-worthy narrator. Hannah Pittard has integrated humor and heart as Kate hits her rock bottom, sinks a little further, and tries to figure out her way back up again.