Subject: Coming of age

Ordinary Grace by William Hunt Krueger

About the Book

New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961. The Twins were playing their debut season, ice-cold root beers were selling out at the soda counter of Halderson’s Drugstore, and Hot Stuff comic books were a mainstay on every barbershop magazine rack. It was a time of innocence and hope for a country with a new, young president. But for thirteen-year-old Frank Drum it was a grim summer in which death visited frequently and assumed many forms. Accident. Nature. Suicide. Murder.

Frank begins the season preoccupied with the concerns of any teenage boy, but when tragedy unexpectedly strikes his family—which includes his Methodist minister father; his passionate, artistic mother; Juilliard-bound older sister; and wise-beyond-his-years kid brother—he finds himself thrust into an adult world full of secrets, lies, adultery, and betrayal, suddenly called upon to demonstrate a maturity and gumption beyond his years.

Told from Frank’s perspective forty years after that fateful summer, Ordinary Grace is a brilliantly moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God.


Peace Like a River by Leif Enger

About the Book

The story of 11-year-old Reuben Land's unusual family and their journey across the frozen Badlands of the Dakotas in search of his fugitive older brother. Charged with the murder of two locals who terrorized their family, Davy has fled, understanding that the scales of justice will not weigh in his favor. But Reuben, his father, Jeremiah—a man of faith so deep he has been known to produce miracles—and Reuben's little sister, Swede, follow closely behind the fleeing Davy.


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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Cruddy by Lynda Barry

About the Book

On a September night in 1971, a few days after getting busted for dropping acid, a sixteen-year-old curls up in the corner of her ratty bedroom and begins to write.

Roberta Rohbeson’s book starts out as a drug-fueled teenage rant that gradually fades into the story of two cross-country trips she made with her father five years earlier — a story she has kept to herself since she was found wandering the desert covered with blood.

Disguised as a boy she accompanied her father on his murderous jobs, during which she pretended to be a mute so as not to give away her voice. One of the more memorable tasks was disposing of dead mobsters in a slaughterhouse.


Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

About the Book

Between 1854 and 1929, so-called orphan trains ran regularly from the cities of the East Coast to the farmlands of the Midwest, carrying thousands of abandoned children whose fates would be determined by pure luck. Would they be adopted by a kind and loving family, or would they face a childhood and adolescence of hard labor and servitude?

As a young Irish immigrant, Vivian Daly was one such child, sent by rail from New York City to an uncertain future a world away. Returning east later in life, Vivian leads a quiet, peaceful existence on the coast of Maine, the memories of her upbringing rendered a hazy blur. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past.

Seventeen-year-old Molly Ayer knows that a community-service position helping an elderly widow clean out her attic is the only thing keeping her out of juvenile hall. But as Molly helps Vivian sort through her keepsakes and possessions, she discovers that she and Vivian aren't as different as they appear. A Penobscot Indian who has spent her youth in and out of foster homes, Molly is also an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past.

Moving between contemporary Maine and Depression-era Minnesota, Orphan Train is a powerful tale of upheaval and resilience, second chances, and unexpected friendship.

 

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

About the Book

The summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable. Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed. In The Interestings, Wolitzer follows these characters from the height of youth through middle age, as their talents, fortunes, and degrees of satisfaction diverge.

The kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence. Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle. Her friend Jonah, a gifted musician, stops playing the guitar and becomes an engineer. But Ethan and Ash, Jules's now-married best friends, become shockingly successful-true to their initial artistic dreams, with the wealth and access that allow those dreams to keep expanding. The friendships endure and even prosper, but also underscore the differences in their fates, in what their talents have become and the shapes their lives have taken.


The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

About the Book

Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for a couple who have never been able to conceive. Jack and Mabel are drifting apart—he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone, but they catch sight of an elusive, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.

This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and leaves blizzards in her wake. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who seems to have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in the Alaska wilderness, life and death are inextricable, and what they eventually learn about Faina changes their lives forever.

 

Folk Tale Influences

“The Snow Child” is based on a folk tale about a young girl made by snow who is loved by a childless older couple. Read versions of the folk tale:

“The Little Daughter of the Snow”

“The Snow Maiden”

Homesteading History

2012 was the 150th anniversary of The Homestead Act. Learn more about the history of homesteading in Alaska:

U.S. Dept. of the Interior: Bureau of Land Management

Eowyn Ivey

Visit author Eowyn Ivey’s website or read her blog “Letters from Alaska.”


Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

About the Book

Part love story, part literary mystery, Melanie Benjamin’s spellbinding historical novel leads readers on an unforgettable journey down the rabbit hole, to tell the story of a woman whose own life became the stuff of legend. Her name is Alice Liddell Hargreaves, but to the world she’ll always be known simply as “Alice,” the girl who followed the White Rabbit into a wonderland of Mad Hatters, Queens of Hearts, and Cheshire Cats. Now, nearing her eighty-first birthday, she looks back on a life of intense passion, great privilege, and greater tragedy. First as a young woman, then as a wife, mother, and widow, she’ll experience adventures the likes of which not even her fictional counterpart could have imagined. Yet from glittering balls and royal romances to a world plunged into war, she’ll always be the same determined, undaunted Alice who, at ten years old, urged a shy, stuttering Oxford professor to write down one of his fanciful stories, thus changing her life forever.

Visit Melanie Benjamin’s website for more information on books by this author.


The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

About the Book

In a quiet suburb of Detroit, the five Lisbon sisters—beautiful, eccentric, and obsessively watched by the neighborhood boys—commit suicide one by one over the course of a single year. As the boys observe them from afar, transfixed, they piece together the mystery of the family's fatal melancholy, in this hypnotic and unforgettable novel of adolescent love, disquiet, and death. Jeffrey Eugenides evokes the emotions of youth with haunting sensitivity and dark humor and creates a coming-of-age story unlike any of our time. The Virgin Suicides is a modern classic, a lyrical and timeless tale of sex and suicide that transforms and mythologizes suburban middle-American life.