Would My Book Club Like This?

A recurring feature showcasing recently released books that book clubs may find interesting.

By Becky Meloan

The Orphan Master’s Son
by Adam Johnson
Random House
464pp

“In the headlights they saw a man running from the zoo with an ostrich egg in his hands. Chasing him up the hill with flashlights were two watchmen.

‘Do you feel for the man hungry enough to steal?’ Commander Ga asked as they drove by. ‘Or for the men who must hunt him down?’

‘Isn’t it the bird who suffers?’ Sun Moon asked.”

Suffering abounds in this tale of Pak Jun Do, who grows up quickly in a North Korean orphanage. Hunger, corruption and brutality are the only constants under the Kim Jong Il regime, where even a perception of disloyalty to the state can result in years of hard labor at a prison camp. Jun Do proves his loyalty to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea at an early age, and fulfills his assigned duties as a kidnapper, a radio translator on a fishing boat, and whatever else the state asks of him. Although he suffers extreme torture, he holds one card: he has no family that can also be tortured and exploited by the state. It is not until he finally meets the girl of his dreams, actress Sun Moon, that he experiences love and suddenly finds he has something to lose. In the way that grand, violent movies like “Pulp Fiction” or “Goodfellas” can simultaneously make you want to watch and look away, the casual cruelty in The Orphan Master’s Son is pervasive and hard to experience, yet the thrilling story compels you to keep reading.

Bottom Line: There is plenty to learn about North Korea in this carefully researched yet fictional account. Book clubs that want to learn more should check out Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, a well-regarded finalist for the 2010 National Book Award.

Read the WIRoB review of The Orphan Master’s Son

The Underside of Joy
by Seré Prince Halverson
Dutton
320pp

Ella Beene lives with her husband, Joe, and his two young children in Northern California. When tragedy strikes and Joe drowns, Ella is left widowed and grieving with the stepchildren to whom she has been the only mother for three years since their biological mother abandoned them. When their mother, Paige, shows up at the funeral intending to reclaim the children, Ella and Paige and their families are left to deal with the repercussions of secrets and half-truths from the past.

Bottom Line: What constitutes motherhood and family? How would you navigate a minefield of relationships and legal rights and emotions in a way that’s best for those you love without giving up what you love the most? Book clubs will find a lot to discuss, whether or not members have children.

A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty
by Joshilyn Jackson
Grand Central
336pp

The Slocumb women find trouble every fifteen years. Ginny Slocumb tries not to be overly superstitious. “I’ll go straight under any number of ladders if you put the right kind of pie on the other side. But the hold the number fifteen has on my family, there’s no natural explanation.” This time around, trouble gets dug up in their backyard: a silver box filled with the bones of a baby.  Fifteen-year-old Mosey is determined to find out who turned their backyard in to a graveyard. Ginny tries to protect her granddaughter from something terrible she suspects has happened, but answers are trapped inside Liza, her fast-living daughter who has been muted by a stroke.  As Ginny and Mosey unravel secret after secret, what they learn could cost their family everything.

Bottom Line: These steel magnolias make great company. Book clubs will enjoy talking about the characters, their motivations and their choices. Fifteen-year-old translators may need to be on call to decipher Mosey’s text conversations: “Willow>Pool?” “R U DED?” “Sorry, Big fite. I am full of lose. Pool>Willow.”

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