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BPL Virtual Book Club | Autumn 2020

by Adult Services Library Associate Beth

With just less than a month to go, the second meeting of the BPL Virtual Book Club is just around the corner! The upcoming meeting will be held on Wednesday, November 4 at 7PM, and we’ll discuss the book Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie. It’s an award-winning book, well received by critics and readers alike, and is sure to generate an engaging discussion. Register to join us! I’m still in the midst of reading the book, but I’m enjoying it so far. It seems like a book I could usually finish in just a day or two, but I’ve been trying to take my time with it. Not only to better prepare for the discussion, but I also have a feeling it is a book I’ll be sad to see end. 


If you’re like me and don’t want to race through the book just yet, you might be looking for another book to absorb yourself with in the meantime. These books share a variety of themes with Shamsie’s: identity, belonging (especially as experienced by an “outsider”), and the nuances of strained/difficult relationships. They follow well-developed, complex and sympathetic (though often flawed) characters. They’re books that evoke a strong sense of place and that attempt to humanize and explore sometimes difficult political stories; i.e., my favorite kinds of books. Indeed, several of these make my list of all time favorite reads!

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Staff Book Reviews

The Power by Naomi Alderman

A book review by Bexley Public Library team member, Debbie.

Some of the most thought-provoking and compelling science fiction asks the question ‘What would happen if?’  In Naomi Alderman’s The Power across the world young women (and only women) start manifesting a mysterious ability to give electrical shocks – anywhere from light shocks to killing bolts.  The Power is a smart, fascinating look about how the world would change if the power balance literally changed overnight. The novel follows four characters as they discover their power and then navigate the changing world.  Roxy, a tough London girl, shocks and kills a man attacking her mother, Allie, a young woman living in an abusive foster home, shocks and kills her abusive foster father. A politician, Margot Cleary, has her power woken up by her daughter, Jocelyn and Tunde Edo is a young man who is the first to document the ‘Power’ phenomenon.  But as women come into their power those who have been running the world feel more threatened.

The Power is not only a book that will make you re-examine the world you know but it is also a thrilling, fast-paced novel with great characters.  I found the book to be both a gripping science fiction novel and a profound look at the nature of power and society that I’m still thinking about.

A warning to readers – The Power is well worth reading BUT is not a utopian book and has some very disturbing depictions of war and atrocities.

For bookclubs:

Debbie found Book Club questions from the great folks at Litlovers: https://www.litlovers.com/reading-guides/fiction/11206-power-alderman?start=3

The Power is also in the works to be a show on Amazon Originals!

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Staff Book Reviews

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russel

A book review & accompanying Book Club Discussion Guide by BPL team member, Beth.

(Content Warning: The review discusses abuse of a teenager by an adult.)

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell is a literary fiction novel about a teenage girl and her relationship with her forty-two-year-old high school English teacher. Vanessa Wye is the protagonist and the narrator, and the novel jumps between her memories of high school, her college years, and the present. In the present, another survivor of the same teacher’s abuse writes of her own experience in a social media post that goes viral. A journalist is writing an article about this woman’s story and how the school enabled the predatory behavior. Vanessa is being pursued by both to come forward and share her own story. While Vanessa wants to take no part in the article for the sake of her own privacy, she also is adamant that she was not abused: she was a consenting party in the relationship, and her so-called abuser, Jacob Strane, actually loved and cared for her.

This is perhaps the novel’s greatest strength: its ability to expose the psychological tension Vanessa faces as she relives and reevaluates her relationship with Strane. The novel expertly depicts Vanessa as a teenage girl, as she struggles to deal with her conflicting emotions towards Strane and their relationship. As readers and third-parties to the relationship, we can clearly see the abusive and predatory behavior. But by witnessing the situation from Vanessa’s perspective, we also learn how Strane groomed Vanessa to see the relationship as one grounded in love and concern. Even as an adult looking back, Vanessa struggles to see the abuse for what it was.

So while the novel’s exploration into Vanessa’s psyche is its greatest strength, it is also its most important cultural contribution. In extensive and disturbing detail, the novel reveals how an abuser picks and manipulates a victim. Vanessa knows that children get abused by adults, but we see the process Strane uses to convince her that he didn’t choose her, how he convinces her that she was the one who initiated the relationship and manipulates her to believe that she is the one who has all of the power. Using her loneliness and vulnerability against her, he is able to convince her that she is the exception to the rule of adult-child relationships: it is not abuse, it is love. And in this exploration, the novel reveals to its readers why so many victims of abuse do not come forward: they’ve been manipulated to believe they’re not being abused at all.

While the novel does have some weaknesses (it could have been edited down to a shorter length, most of the other characters aside from Vanessa and Strane aren’t developed to the degree that they could or should be), overall I would recommend the book. The book is difficult and disturbing to read, but it has a lot of cultural import. It is controversial, and some may find the depictions of the sexual elements of the abuse gratuitous. However, because the book is thought-provoking, it would make a great choice for a book club discussion (with sufficient content warnings to discussion members ahead of time). It stimulates a lot of discussion and debate; albeit around a difficult and sensitive topic. Though, as is often the case, these sorts of debates and discussions tend to be the ones we most need to have.

Book Club Discussion Guide (SPOILERS)

Click the button below to continue reading and see the book club discussion guide: