Frederick, Heather Vogel. The Mother-Daughter Book Club. NY: Simon and Schuster, 2008. 288 p.
One might wonder why I would highlight other books on a blog designed to promote my own book, but I firmly believe that writers are readers – usually in genres similar to the one in which they are writing. I have recently come across a series known as the Mother-Daughter Book Club. The premise of these books is that a group of mothers and daughters will all read the same book and meet to discuss it. At first glance it seems rather boring, but as I devolved into them, I found them quite intriguing. The books selected for reading are either junvenile classics or notable works of fiction. The books are not without their share of teen-age drama, and there are often micro-themes emerging from the milieu of the girls’ lives. Each chapter begins with a quote from the book they are reading and is often loosely applicable to what the girls are experiencing. Each book is divided into four sections that correspond to the seasons of the year, with each book beginning with Fall. In the first book the girls and their mothers are reading Little Women together, and each girl relates one of the characters to herself and to her own situation.
In this first book, we are introduced to the four main characters: Cassidy Sloan who has recently moved with her mother and older sister to Concord, Massachusetts from Laguna Beach, CA. She is having a tough time adjusting to the differences in the two locales and is also struggling with the recent death of her father. Cassidy is somewhat of a tomboy and a total sports fanatic.
Jess Delaney is a quiet, retiring girl who lives on an organic farm with her family. She is highly intelligent and is a talented vocalist. She raises goats on the farm and loves all animals. Her family dynamic is likewise different, because her mother lives in New York City where she stars in a soap opera. Jess is often the object of scorn because of her mother’s choices as well as her involvement on the family farm.
Megan Wong is of Asian descent. Her father’s recent invention has given the family status in the town as well as a decided economic advantage. Her mother is somewhat of an activist, always looking for a cause to support, usually to the chagrin of her daughter. Megan is also a member of Fab Four, a group of girls who set the tone for the social structure of the middle school the girls attend. She struggles with several issues throughout this first book. First, she is not living up to her mother’s perception of success. Mrs. Wong wants her to follow the career path of a success lawyer, while Megan’s interests lie in the world of fashion design. Second, Megan struggles with her loyalties – do they lie with girls in the book club or with the Fab Four. It will be a choice that she alone must make.
Emma Hawthorne is from a family of modest means. Her father is attempting to write a novel while her mother supports the family as the town’s librarian. She wears hand me towns which have been gifted to her by someone in her church. She is also best friends with Jess Delaney.
While the predominant theme is friendship between the girls, I believe a micro-theme of bullying runs throughout the book. First, there is the somewhat covert bullying in the assignment of nicknames to Emma and Jess, in particular. Emma is referred to as Hawthorne the Heifer and Jess is Goat Girl. The book makes the reasons for these derogatory titles obvious. One of the most overt instances of bullying is the sabotaging of Jess’s opening night as Belle in the school’s presentation of Beauty and the Beast. Another instance is when Becca Chadwick swipes Emma’s diary and reads parts of it out loud, much to Emma’s consternation and horror.
It is interesting, though, that many of the instances of bullying are repaid with pranks of greater magnitude, and then the adults step in. Unfortunately, there is one adult, Calliope Chadwick who models bullying-type behavior for her daughter, Becca, and others by her loud and obnoxious demeanor and overbearing power over others.
Despite their differences and the hiccoughs mentioned, the bonds of friendship between the girls really do run strong. There are two defining moments amidst all the drama. First, Megan finally decides her primary loyalties lie with her book club friends rather than with the Fab Four, although she maintains loose ties with the exclusivist girls. The second when Jess’s mother turns her back on her acting career and rejoins her family on the farm.
I look forward to sharing other titles from this series in this series in coming blog posts.