Welcome, Readers, into a bright and brilliant new year.
Things don’t magically improve with the flip of a calendar, as much as we might wish it so, but the start of a new year creates a kind of energy that invites us to be audacious in our desires, to dare to do more to make the world a better place.
Literature and the conversations that come from what we read have the power to change the world. That’s why we’re so glad that you’re here, joining us in kicking off our Circles of Change Book Club in 2017.
I’m Casey Rose Frank, avid reader, writer, and ardent fan of Circles of Change, and your reading cheerleader for the month of January.
When I first received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of Holding Up the Universe last summer I was absolutely blown away. Not only by the beautiful story, but by the fact that I was stepping into the shoes of a character who as a teenager had found a way to truly love herself and her body for all that it could do.
Included in the beginning of the ARC was a note from the author, Jennifer Niven, which I want to share with you for some greater context of the story:
You are wanted. You are necessary. You are loved.
This is the message I've been writing to readers of All the Bright Places since the book’s release in January 2015. Since then, I've been contacted by thousands of teens who feel misunderstood or alone. During one particular day in the fall of last year, I wrote that message 141 times.
Holding Up the Universe is about seeing and being seen. Like All the Bright Places, this new novel is a personal story. It comes from my own loss and fear and pain, and it comes from real people who are dear to me. It comes from my twelve- and thirteen-year-old self, who struggled with her weight and the bullying that came with it. From the loss of my dad, which happened on the months after the loss of my boyfriend, when I shut down completely and couldn't leave the house because the world is too scary. From having to go back out into that world again and figure out my place and it. And most recently, it comes from the loss of my mom, who was my sun, and from trying not to worry--every day-- that I will die unexpectedly, without warning, the way she did.
Additionally, the book comes from my sixteen-year-old cousin, who has had to learn to recognize the people in his life, not by faces, but by the important things like "how nice they are and how many freckles they have."
But the story really began with that reader interaction. I wrote this book for Christine in the United States, for Jayvee in the Philippines, for Steysha in Ukraine, for Paulo and Brazil, for Steph in the U.K., for Shubham in India, and for all the others like them. These vibrant, smart, giant-hearted teens who need and deserve to be seen, and who need to know they are wanted. They are necessary. They are loved.
As you join us in our online discussions and host your own reading groups in person we hope that you discover how loved and necessary you are.
These are the four questions and the corresponding dates on which you can share your voice on our Instagram account by joining the discussion. On each day you can comment and exchange ideas all long on the question we post, and then for 2 hours that evening I will be on the COC account to join the fun as well and do my best to answer any questions you may have. We are happy to answer any and all questions about the book club itself at any time, any day, so please feel free to email us or reach out on Instagram.
You can download a PDF of the Instagram discussion questions HERE!
Here are some additional questions we think might be helpful in conducting your own local book club meetings
1. When you learned about prosopagnosia did you try to imagine what it would be like to not be able to recognize those closest to you?
2. Libby comes to understand through the experience of treatment that her body is just one facet of her identity, Jack is forced to learn that faces and bodies are just one facet of identity because of his prosopagnosia. When you think about your own identity, how much of it is based in the physical, and how much in things like who you are? After reading and assessing do you find a desire to change how you think of your own identity?
3. In order to see change in action we had to be introduced to the social acceptability of body-shaming/fat-shaming, meaning we saw that Libby was taunted as a child with a boy saying, “No one will ever love you because you’re fat!” How does the progression of the story from taunts that sting, to opportunities to challenge the social norms and to create teachable moments of inclusion make you feel as an overall arc?
4. Libby often puts herself inside the life of another person in order to better understand why they say and act how they do. Does understanding that someone is lashing out because they are afraid make you more sympathetic to their actions?
5. When Jack talks to Dusty about other people being afraid of someone who is proud of who they are, and boils down other people’s insecurities to being at the heart of bullying, Dusty accepts this answer but the boys don’t come up with anything else to combat this other than to not be cruel to other people. Is there something else you would have shared with Dusty?
6. Why do you think that dancing is such an important part of the story for both Libby and Jack?
7. Do you think Caroline was aware of what she was really saying when she asked Jack, “Why don’t you want me?”