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Since March 2019, TODAY host Jenna Bush Hager has chosen a new book every month to share with the Read With Jenna book club. Jenna works hard to choose stories that will delight, entertain and challenge readers. She understands the power of a good book to unite communities and ignite conversation.
As you read each month's novel, you can also join the discussion on the Read With Jenna Instagram, the Read With Jenna Facebook group and the Read With Jenna Goodreads group. Follow all the accounts to stay up to date and share your thoughts about all of Jenna's picks.
And if you're interested in supporting independent bookstores, one of Jenna's favorite things is Bookshop, an online retailer that supports local bookstores. If you want to find a specific location to support, you can find them on the site's map and they'll receive the full profit of your order. Otherwise, your order will contribute to an earnings pool that will be distributed evenly among independent bookstores.
"For anybody looking for a great escape, this is a wonderful book where you will find yourself really engrossed in the stories of these women," Jenna said.
Set in Odessa, Texas, in 1976, the novel follows the aftermath of a horrific act of violence: the attack of a 14-year-old girl named Gloria Ramirez. Told through different characters' perspectives, the story explores how race and class intersect in a small, secluded community on the cusp of an oil boom.
"Elizabeth really developed these characters that I felt like I knew," Jenna gushed about Wetmore's debut work. "I found myself missing them when the story was over. The women are complicated. They are a lot of things at once."
One of Wetmore's goal's with the book was to capture the essence of where she grew up. In Jenna's eyes, she was successful.
"I was born in Midland, Texas, and I really think she got the place right," Jenna said.
Jenna discovered the book when Valerie Koeher, owner of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, recommended it to her.
"She knew I would love 'Valentine' because I love West Texas," said Jenna. "She knew I would see glimpses of my grandma Jenna, a homemaker who never graduated but took geology classes at the local community college and taught me every constellation in the sky."
This March, Jenna has chosen “Writers and Lovers” by Lily King, the author of the bestselling novel, “Euphoria,” for her book club readers. The coming-of-age story grapples with themes of identity, grief, ambition and love.
“I chose 'Writers and Lovers' because I don’t think I’ve chosen a book like this,” said Jenna, “Lily King really explores different themes that our book club hasn’t explored.”
In the novel, the protagonist, Casey Peabody, is at a moment in her life when she must face her future head-on and make decisions about what she really wants in both her career and love life. After the unexpected death of her beloved mother, Casey moves back to her old college stomping grounds in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she is forced to reckon with the fact that she isn't where she wants to be in her early 30s. Casey also finds herself struggling in her romantic life as she ends up in a love triangle between a writing professor and his student.
“It is in some ways a love story. That’s clear from the title, but I think what Lily King did really well was that when you are done with this book, what you find is that as long as you are true to yourself and you really understand what makes you happy, that is the true love story,” said Jenna.
Abi Daré's debut novel is about a young Nigerian girl named Adunni. We first meet our heroine shortly after the death of her mother. Without her supportive mom ensuring she finishes her education, Adunni is forced into a loveless marriage by her father, in exchange for money.
For Adunni, her misfortunes only multiply from there. She ends up being sold as an indentured servant to a wealthy family, where no one will discuss the strange disappearance of her predecessor. Despite the heartbreaking obstacles Adunni is forced to face, she refuses to let her voice be silenced.
"It’s about this young girl, Adunni, whose voice, from the time she is born, is strong, loud and clear but because of where she is born and the circumstances of her life, she doesn’t yet know how to use it," said Jenna.
On the heels of Jenna's recent trip to Vietnam, where she had the opportunity to meet brave young women who are overcoming extraordinary odds just to stay in school, this book shares an important narrative about women's rights around the world.
"It is the most hopeful story I read this year," said Jenna.
"Dear Edward," by Ann Napolitano is about a 12-year-old boy named Edward after he is the sole survivor of a plane crash that claims the lives of 183 passengers, including his family. After the heartbreaking ordeal, he has to find the resilience to create a new life for himself with his aunt and uncle.
The story goes back and forth between Edward's present-day as he rebuilds his life and the doomed plane with all of its various passengers. In weaving the stories together, Napolitano keeps humanity at the center of the story. Readers are reminded of the immense loss that occurred in the crash between chapters about Edward's trying recovery.
"I choose Dear Edward because it is a book about love and loss and finding your way after the unthinkable," said Jenna, "I thought to start our year off, even though hopefully nothing this dramatic happens in everyone’s life, we can all think about kindof a new lease on life."
Edward’s story is about new beginnings. How do we move forward when we feel pain, how do we love when we feel broken, and how do we define ourselves when we are forced to start over?
Use promo code "READWITHJENNA" to enroll in Book of the Month Club and get your first book for $9.99 (originally $14.99).
Late Migrations is a compilation of essays written by author Margaret Renkle that weave together to touch on themes of love, loss and hope.
The book begins with the story Renkl was told about the birth of her mother and ends with her death. Throughout the book, her essays paint a picture of her complicated but loving family.
Interspersed in Renkl's personal stories are essays in which Renkl writes about her own observation of nature in her suburban backyard in Nashville, Tennessee. Her observations of the natural world are deliberately placed to comment on themes that complement her personal stories.
The book also includes a series of artworks done by Renkl's brother, Billy Renkl.
The essays tackle complicated subjects including mental health, grief and the complicated transition from child to caregiver.
"It was a beautiful walk in the woods, you stopped and took in all of these beautiful things about life," Jenna said, "About relationships, about family, about friendships, about finding who you are."
The story centers around a pair of estranged, longtime friends, Madison and Lillian, whose lives have gone in dramatically different directions. Madison obtained power and wealth as a politician's wife, while Lillian worked two grocery store jobs and lived with her mom to make ends meet. But when Madison needs help taking care of a delicate matter she turns to her old friend Lillian for help.
What would a powerful, wealthy woman like Madison need Lillian's help with? Oh, just the spontaneously combusting twin stepkids who are coming to live in her house after the death of their mother.
"It sounds a little bit sci-fi but I don’t think any book has touched me about parenthood as much as 'Nothing to See Here,'" Jenna said.
While this book holds a special message for parents, those without children will be just as easily touched by the book's powerful message about nurturing the gifts that make us special, even when they make us stand out.
"The theme is definitely on family and being yourself and finding who you are, even if what you are seems strange to the rest of the world," Jenna explained.
Set over five decades, "The Dutch House" follows the close sibling relationship of the book's main characters, Danny and Maeve, as they navigate life's obstacles.
Narrated by Danny, the story is set into motion when the two siblings' father, Cyril Conroy, makes a lucky real estate investment at the end of World War II. He uses his newly acquired wealth to surprise his family with the purchase of a large property known as The Dutch House. With this purchase, he unknowingly thrusts a series of tragedies upon Danny and Maeve.
Despite moving out of The Dutch House, Danny and Maeve continue to visit their old home to relive and remember their childhood. Their shared pain and their fascination with the physical house keep their unshakable bond intact throughout adulthood but also threaten to hold them back from moving forward with their lives.
“What I kept coming back to in this book was Danny and Maeve’s closeness, their bond, how they raise each other,” said Jenna. "I thought it was a beautiful story of a relationship between brother and sister.”
"The Dearly Beloved" follows two couples who are brought together to lead a historic church in New York City during the 1960s. The novel traces the course of their lives before and after they intersect.
The four main characters are all from different parts of the U.S. and different family backgrounds. They're forced to grapple with challenging circumstances during a tumultuous era in our country's history and their past continues to shape the decisions they make, while their faith continues to shift.
Cara Wall's debut novel navigates multiple themes as it chronicles the lives of its four main characters through their evolving relationships.
Jenna said, "It’s a book about faith, friendship, relationships and what connects us."
In "Patsy," the story begins in Jamaica as the titular character gets her visa and makes the difficult decision to leave her daughter, Tru, behind while she seeks a better life for herself in the U.S. After that pivotal moment, the perspective shifts back and forth between Patsy's new life in New York and Tru's life back in Jamaica.
The novel follows the difficult challenges Patsy faces as an immigrant, the relationships she forms in her new environment and explores the concept of the unwilling mother.
Patsy is a character who is looking to better her own life but also make major sacrifices along the way to do so. The book explores themes of identity, empathy and the immigrant experience against the backdrop of New York City.
"At the end this is a beautiful story of love," said Jenna.
This debut novel for author Linda Holmes, who's best known as the host of NPR's "Pop Culture Happy Hour" podcast, follows the titular character, Evvie, a year after the death of her husband.
When she's introduced to some fresh faces, Evvie forges a new friendship that has the potential to turn into something more. She and her old friend Dean explore the possibilities that lie in the future and must also grapple with the secrets of their past.
"I was captivated by Evvie Drake right away," said Jenna. "By the character of Evvie — and her predicament of finding herself as a young widow and trying to find herself."
The gripping story begins when Sylvie Lee goes missing on a trip to visit her extended family in the Netherlands. When no one hears from Sylvie for several days, her timid younger sister Amy must step up to lead the charge for her search.
As Amy desperately searches for answers, the truth about her beautiful, successful and seemingly put-together sister, Sylvie Lee begins to unravel.
The suspense-filled novel is an emotional tribute to sisterhood and the immigrant experience. It explores themes of love, loss and family secrets.
"Mysteries are my guilty pleasures. I always think I'm kind of good at solving what's happened early on in the book," Jenna explained. "I couldn't help but continue to read to figure out where she was and what happened to her."
Following three women in a Palestinian family, "A Woman Is No Man" explores the tension between each woman's expectations and their dreams as they raise the next generation of women in the U.S.
The author transports readers into an insular immigrant community in Brooklyn, New York, where the highest possible achievement for a woman is to marry and bear sons. But what if she wants more?
Bouncing back and forth between newlywed Isra's life in the early '90s and her daughter Deya's life in 2008, the narrative is filled with moments of suspense as Deya discovers dark secrets behind her complex community.
"It's about what is acceptable for a woman — how a woman can use her voice," Jenna told TODAY. "And to see these women change, and to see their idea of what can be changed over generations is really the story of so many women."
Published posthumously, Julie Yip-Williams' memoir traces her life beginning with her tumultuous childhood in Vietnam through her personal and professional successes as an adult. After receiving a terminal diagnosis, Yip-Williams set out to document the miraculous life she'd led and the difficult task of grappling with its early end.
"It's a beautiful story about what it means to live," Jenna told TODAY. "So, it's sad in some ways. But also, for us still living, it's a great reminder that life is precious, and it's a gift — and to live every single day like it's our last."
The Last Romantics is an unforgettable story about a Connecticut family as they face a crisis. The Skinner siblings, Renee, Caroline, Joe and Fiona, find themselves forced to question the choices they have made in their lives and decide what they are really willing to do for love.
The novel explores family bonds and responsibilities as the four siblings navigate a difficult time in search of a way into the future.
“It’s about siblings coping with a tragedy and how their whole lives unravel and come together,” said Jenna.
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