Cruddy Discussion Questions

The following discussion questions for “Cruddy” were created by our members Susie,  Julie, and Lisa. We freely share our original discussion questions, but please consider including a credit and link to our website. Right now it appears these might be the only discussion questions on the internet for this book. We encourage your book club to read this book because it makes a great discussion!

  1. The author is a well-known cartoonist. Does her art background shape her writing style? In what way do the illustrations enhance the story?
  2. “The cruddy girl named Roberta was writing the cruddy book of her cruddy life and the name of the book was called Cruddy.” Why did Barry choose to tell the story in Roberta’s voice? Would you like to read the story from another character or the author’s point of view?
  3. Roberta’s father calls her Clyde and pretends she is his son. Doolie Bug is run over while wearing Marie Cardall’s clothes. Vicky’s father is called Susy Homemaker and wears a pink chenille woman’s robe. And then there is Gy-Rah, the Sequined Genius and poetry spouting six-peckered son of Doris. Why do you think Barry blurred the gender lines?
  4. “I’m Sorry” is carved and scarred down Roberta’s arm? She tells Stick she is not sorry. So why does she have the scar?
  5. The father said, “The monkey with the most meat wins.” A boy named Monkey tells Roberta the truth about Turtle. A sock monkey named Trina holds a secret stash of money and Little Debbie. A cliff-climbing circus man, Powder Monkey, steals Doris from Old Dad. What’s up with all the monkeys in this book?
  6. Roberta obsessed over trains and jumping in front of one. She had easy access to many weapons. What was so captivating about trains? Why couldn't she end her own life?
  7. So many people die around Roberta or because of Roberta. Which death did you find most memorable? Would you consider Roberta a sociopath? What about Ray? Do you think Roberta could kill someone she loved?
  8. Why do you think the mom shoved Roberta into the back seat of Ray’s car before he left for his road trip? Why did the father let her stay? How does Ray perceive Roberta?
  9. Ray felt betrayed by Old Dad after he sold the meat business, gave away three suitcases of money, and hung himself. Ray’s road trip was revenge for this betrayal. If Old Dad had given Ray the meat business instead, would he have become homicidal anyway at some point? Roberta’s mother betrayed Ray also. Why didn’t he kill her?
  10. Throughout the book Barry describes the unrelenting negative smells in disgusting places. How did this contribute to the story? Do you think it was a significant part of Roberta’s narrative?
  11. Do you think Roberta changes as the story progresses?
  12. Vicky is not interested in hearing Roberta’s story. She is the only one in the group of teens who doesn’t die or get hurt. Is there any meaning to this? Why does her brother, Stick, kill himself?

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The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan

About the Book

The incredible story of the young women of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, who unwittingly played a crucial role in one of the most significant moments in U.S. history.

The Tennessee town of Oak Ridge was created from scratch in 1942. One of the Manhattan Project’s secret cities, it didn’t appear on any maps until 1949, and yet at the height of World War II it was using more electricity than New York City and was home to more than 75,000 people, many of them young women recruited from small towns across the South. Their jobs were shrouded in mystery, but they were buoyed by a sense of shared purpose, close friendships—and a surplus of handsome scientists and Army men!

But against this vibrant wartime backdrop, a darker story was unfolding. The penalty for talking about their work—even the most innocuous details—was job loss and eviction. One woman was recruited to spy on her coworkers. They all knew something big was happening at Oak Ridge, but few could piece together the true nature of their work until the bomb “Little Boy” was dropped over Hiroshima, Japan, and the secret was out. The shocking revelation: the residents of Oak Ridge were enriching uranium for the atomic bomb.

Though the young women originally believed they would leave Oak Ridge after the war, many met husbands there, made lifelong friends, and still call the seventy-year-old town home. The reverberations from their work there—work they didn’t fully understand at the time—are still being felt today. In The Girls of Atomic City, Denise Kiernan traces the astonishing story of these unsung WWII workers through interviews with dozens of surviving women and other Oak Ridge residents. Like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, this is history and science made fresh and vibrant—a beautifully told, deeply researched story that unfolds in a suspenseful and exciting way.

For more information, visit The Girls of Atomic City website.

Denise Kiernan presents to the National Archives

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

Does Our All-Female Book Club Favor Women Writers?

The artist’s wife reading at home on Sofievej by Paul Gustave Fischer

Goodreads looked at 20,000 men and 20,000 women to see who and what they were reading. Through their research of their members, they discovered that women prefer to read, and like books more, if they are written by women. 

I thought I would take a quick survey of our book selections over the past several years to see if this gender preference is reflected in our own group. With a quick count, I found that out of 109 books, 62—or 57%—are written by female authors. 100% of our members are women. So we definitely line up with Goodread’s results, though our percentages are less extreme.

Unless you look at our 2015 selections. A whopping nine out of our 11 book choices are written by female authors. 2014 was designated as the year of reading women. But during that year, only seven of our books were written by women (I’m counting Robert Galbraith as female). Maybe we were just a little slow to catch on? I don’t think that’s the case. When I review more previous years, it looks like our bias for women authors is trending up.

At our last book club meeting, I asked our members if they intentionally chose to read books by female authors. With only a few exceptions, most of us said that gender didn’t play a part in their book selections.

Allison B. said she doesn’t have a preference in general for male or female authors. But, she definitely targets female authors to suggest for our group’s annual book selections.

Our members were surprised when I pointed out the large number of women authors in our 2015 selections. They speculated that perhaps this has more to do with the type of books we prefer. We gravitate to character-driven fiction, especially involving strong female personalities. 

Lisa said, “I think that women just tend to write fiction on topics that I like. They spend more time on character development, relationships and dynamics in relationships. If a writer spends time on these subjects, I enjoy them no matter if they were written by a man or a woman. For example, “The Corrections” by Jonathan Franzen is a favorite contemporary novel.”

When tallying up my own Goodreads list of books, I found a smaller percentage of female authors. Only 59 out of the 125 books I list are women. This archive doesn't represent an accurate count of my lifetime of reading. Just what I remember reading or remember to catalog. But I did find the results interesting.

Perhaps it’s my love of science fiction that sways the results. According to this Slate article, “Only about a quarter of science fiction novels are written by women; for fantasy and combination novels, it’s closer to half.”

Another avid reader and friend of mine, Ruth said, “I never pay any attention to the gender of the author as I don’t I prefer one over the other.”

But, she brings up an excellent point when discussing male versus female authors, “I’ve become quite acutely aware that the literary community values male writers over female writers. When a woman writes about relationships and family, it’s Chick Lit. When a man does it,  it’s a 'tour de force exploring the universality of the human experience.’”

Despite what the Goodreads results suggest, and even though most readers are female; the majority of U.S. book reviews continue to focus on the male author according to the 2014 VIDA Count. VIDA is a research-driven organization that motivates the literary field to examine their favoritism toward male authors and reviewers. Each year the VIDA Count gathers data from top tier journals, publications, and presses. These numbers reveal how the issue of inequality continues for the woman writer.

An L.A. Times article represents an example of this pervasive inequality. Jennifer Egan beat the literary community’s golden boy Jonathan Franzen for the 2011 National Book Critic’s Circle Award for Fiction. Instead of highlighting the female winner, the article featured a photograph of Franzen and his book. Furthermore, the subhead leaves out Egan’s book title and, again, focuses on Franzen.


Readers were outraged, calling out the newspaper for its sexism. The paper eventually replaced Franzen’s portrait and book cover with that of Eagan’s.


So, in the headline for this post I posed the question, “Does Our All-Female Book Club Favor Women Writers?”  I now wonder if I should really change the question to our members and other female-dominated book clubs: 

“Why Our All-Female Book Club
SHOULD Favor Women Writers!”