Our first Girl Scout summer book club meeting was a big success. Half of my troop came, all armed with questions and opinions. In tribute to the book cover, we ate strawberry fruit bars (I couldn’t find packs of cherry popsicles) on the shaded back porch. Some of the girls loved the book, some... not so much. But the differences in their impressions of Shug made the discussion much more interesting, and led to a basic realization about book clubs that I hadn’t deeply considered: Not everyone will like the book.
The girls who loved it found it easy to relate to the main character and found the book very realistic. They liked seeing a girl in situations that they could understand, and perhaps even learn a little bit from her actions. They enjoyed the sweetness of the story.
One of the girls who didn’t care for the book thought that Shug’s feeling of love for Mark was too sudden and too deep. She thought the idea of love at twelve was silly, so she couldn’t buy into the main plot. (I disagree, having heard some sixth graders talk about their crushes.) Another girl didn’t like the very emotional tone of the book, finding Shug too insecure and “whiny.” She thought it was all a cliché which led to my first discussion question: If a cliché becomes a cliché because it is based in realistic situations, how can you say whether a book is realistic or clichéd?
In this vein, we talked about ways that the book could have been more standard teen chick-lit. The girl could win the boy. The best friends could break up forever. The mom and dad could realize the error of their ways and change for the better. In Shug, the relationships don’t always go the way you’d expect, and the endings aren’t so black-and-white.
The problem a few of the girls had with the book was not being able to relate to a scene where the queen bee girl brings out beer at a slumber party. They couldn’t believe that could happen to them in the next few months. I have to admit, we have a very nice elementary school with very nice people, so I could see how that scene felt a million miles away from where they are right now. Even so, it gave us a chance to talk about peer pressure and what they would do in that situation.
We discussed at some length Shug’s friendships and how they related to their own experiences. A couple of girls were on Sherilyn’s side, and thought that Shug was too hard on her for not backing her up at the slumber party or at lunch. Others talked about how hard it is to “outgrow” a friend without being mean. No one thought that mean Mairi was worth sucking up to for any reason.
The girls all brought good questions for Jenny Han. I’ll put that author interview up next Wednesday, keeping that day of the week for Summer Book Club business. After our book discussion, we moved into some other choices for the rest of the summer. They were all excited to recommend their favorites, and I’m going to consider the selections. There were so many suggestions that we may continue the book club through the school year, though not meeting as frequently.
Overall, we had an awesome time. There were certainly a lot more questions I might have posed we barely touched on Shug’s family but it was a great start. Most interesting for me was finding out that the realistic flavor of the book that I find so appealing was actually a turn-off to some of the girls. I loved the book because it took me back to that transition so clearly and represented that age so accurately. But these particular girls felt like they’re already living this life of friends and crushes and popularity why would they want to read about it? I had never thought of it that way, which I suppose is why we have these book clubs in the first place.
July 16th book selection: Happy Kid! by Gail Gauthier