Book Clubs, “The Beginning of After,” and the many faces of one novel

In June, the lovely ladies of Epic Reads selected “The Beginning of After” for their monthly Book Club, and HarperCollins created a terrific Book Club Discussion Guide for it. You can download the guide from Scribd at this link. It’s pretty and filled with questions that make you go hmmmm.

Now that TBOA is out in paperback and more likely to be a book club choice in general, I’ve been thinking about how no two people will read the same novel the same way. It’s an amazing thing, when you think about it. The printed words on the page are identical for each person, but that person’s unique life experiences and emotional state of being, his or her sensibilities at that moment in time, will own those words differently. As a reader, I’ve always known this. But it wasn’t until I became an author and watched “The Beginning of After” make its way into the world that I understood the power of it.

Obviously, I have my own relationship with my book. I know what it means to me, and how the process of writing it changed me…not just on the outside with career-y stuff but deep down, where Laurel will always live and show me new things about myself. But since the story’s been out there, I’ve had the privilege of seeing — from online reviews, chatting with readers in person, and emails I’ve received — what this book becomes to other people.

For many, this is a book about grief and how to cope with it. The college student who stumbled upon “The Beginning of After” in a bookstore, still reeling from the death of her best friend in a drunk driving accident. The young woman who lost her dad when she was twelve years old and thought nobody would ever understand what that felt like. The girl whose sister is dying from cancer, trying to figure out how to say goodbye. The thought that this book helped any of these readers who shared the pain of their losses with me — well, that means everything. And more.

For others, this is a book mainly about love. The love between Laurel and Nana. Laurel and Meg. Laurel and her family. And, of course, Laurel and certain boys in her life. (There’s a special place in my heart for the readers who just want to talk to me about David. Yes! David! David! David!)

Then for many readers, this is a book that celebrates hope and strength. They focus on Laurel’s struggle to create her “After” and how that resonated for them. Maybe they haven’t lost someone, but they’ve made it to the other side of something big: an illness, a divorce, an addiction. They are survivors. Hear them roar.

I got to experience this range of interpretation first-hand when I was the guest of honor at a local book club gathering to discuss “The Beginning of After.” There were eight women there of various ages. They each had a story that somehow lined up with Laurel’s, yet each story was completely different. How cool was that for me? I actually can’t tell you. It was that cool.

I’ve also done Skype chats with book clubs that are not local. These were very fun. I would do them again, as my schedule allows. If you’re reading “The Beginning of After” in your book club (or classroom, or school/library reading program), please don’t hesitate to contact me about my availability.

Oh, and for any book club gathering, may I recommend this recipe for Noodle Kugel that comes straight from Nana herself. It’s ridiculously easy and gratuitously sweet, and Nana wouldn’t have it any other way.