Growing up is hard to do—but great fodder for book club discussions.
Swimming in the Dark, Tomasz Jedrowski’s electrifying coming-of-age novel, takes place in 1980s Poland during a time of political upheaval. After they meet at a summer camp, Ludwik and Janusz begin a secret, passionate romance, spending idyllic hours together in nature. But the two don’t see eye to eye politically, and their relationship is threatened by Janusz’s devotion to the country’s embattled Communist regime. Jedrowski portrays the intense connection between two men in a repressive culture with wistfulness and emotional authenticity. The novel’s rich exploration of themes like loyalty and identity, as well as its less commonly trod historical setting, make it an excellent reading group pick.
The Girl With the Louding Voice, Abi Daré’s accomplished debut, tells the story of Adunni, a 14-year-old Nigerian girl who harbors hopes of getting an education and leaving poverty behind. Adunni faces many challenges, including an arranged marriage, but she’s determined to live life on her own terms—and to help other women. Language plays a major role in this lively, inspiring story, and Adunni’s remarkable voice is one readers won’t forget. Potential discussion topics include gender norms, societal expectations and the importance of agency.
Philippe Besson’s Lie With Me is an unforgettable exploration of early love and a piercing analysis of social class and self-image. With true passion, the novel’s narrator, a successful writer named Philippe, recalls an affair he had in high school with a classmate. Because he’s the school principal’s son, Philippe keeps his love for Thomas, the son of a farmer, a secret. He doesn’t talk to Thomas at school, and Thomas senses early on that their relationship is doomed. Molly Ringwald’s (yes, that Molly Ringwald) translation from the original French captures the bittersweet emotions at play during a formative time in the young men’s lives.
Etaf Rum’s tense, dramatic novel, A Woman Is No Man, follows three generations of Palestinian American women as they try to reconcile arranged marriages and motherhood with their personal desires. The story of Isra, who immigrates to America with Adam, her husband, forms the backbone of the novel. Isra and Adam settle in Brooklyn, where she struggles with an overbearing mother-in-law. Isra eventually gives birth to four daughters, including Deya, who wishes to attend college in open defiance of family expectations. Rum explores Arab American culture in a multilayered narrative that’s rife with discussion material.