Last night Catherine and I went to our mother-daughter book club meeting. We had so much fun before the discussion began that we didn’t sit down to talk about the book until we had all been at Ellen and Franny’s house for nearly two hours! Since the girls started high school, we’ve cut back to meeting about once every six to eight weeks, but we do miss each other in the interim. Most of the girls see each other at school, but the moms don’t seem much of each other at all. And there’s no other place that the whole group gathers together at the same time.
After we polished off bowls of chili accompanied by salad and cornbread (yum!), it was time for book discussion. We read How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez. We weren’t sure how discussion was going to go, because we knew the book brought up tough issues to read about: mental illness, sexual promiscuity, drug usage and more. Some of the moms especially were not comfortable reading about such dark, emotional issues. But when we got into the discussion, we found the girls had not really focused on those points too much. They’re used to reading and analyzing texts with those issues in them for school, and they don’t have life experience yet to be truly affected by the despair some of the adults picked up on.
Most people didn’t like the way the book was told from the present in the main characters’ lives, back to the past. They believed they could have been much more sympathetic to the four Garcia girls as adults, if they had known more about their lives as children first. I thought most of the chapters were beautifully written, capturing human emotion exceptionally well. But I also thought the book read like a series of short stories connected by a common thread. I found it much easier to appreciate the whole book when I looked at it that way.
I’m sure the author wasn’t thinking of a young adult audience when she wrote this book. We chose it because it was on the reading list for the literature class at one of the girl’s high school. I was reminded during our discussion of the reasons I usually recommend against choosing books from a school reading list. For one thing, those books often contain dark, emotional conflicts that show the characters’ growth over the course of the story. It’s perfect for analysis, but not always perfect for book club. Also, reading school books for book club can mean that your fun group meeting turns into just another assignment.
While we did have a lively, meaningful discussion about How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent, I don’t recommend it as a mother-daughter book club book. Next up, we’ll be going in a different direction as we read The Tao of Pooh, by Benjamin Hoff.