105 Ways to Give a Book

Summer Book Club: Shug

ShugOur 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


Anonymous said...

It's funny to think that the book was too realistic for some of the teens.


Jen Robinson said...

I agree. I find that last point fascinating. For us, it's a fun nostalgia, and validating when the author gets the feeling of that age just right. But if you're living in it, you might just prefer to escape. Something to keep in mind... (though how to use that insight in reviewing, I'm not sure, because I have to think that sometimes kids do find validation in the book feeling like real life. Hmm...) Thanks so much for sharing this, Pam!

Anonymous said...

This is totally fascinating! I've had a similar experience with a middle school book club, wherein some kids just didn't like the book and I was surprisingly surprised and flummoxed.

I've also had high school kids tell me the same thing about realistic fiction about teens-- that they're living it, so they're not really interested in reading about it. Come to think of it, I might have felt like that too, way back when-- even when I did read realistic fiction, I tended to pick books about kids whose lives were very different from mine.

MotherReader said...

Let me make sure that I was clear that only some of the girls felt that way. The others liked that it felt so real. I'm certainly not saying that this type of fiction is a loser for teens, but it wasn't the slam dunk I thought it would be.

The other thing is that those girls would never have read this book except for wanting to be part of the book club. So what was interesting to me then, is how self-selecting the good reviews and opinions of a book really are. Once you see the cover, read the flap, you may be already halfway to loving the book. The teens who don't go for that type of book generally don't get past the first look. Unless it's a book club.

But see how that applies to book bloggers too?

Jenny Han said...

I'm sad to hear not all your girls were fans of the book, but you win some, you lose some!

ps. My website email has been on the fritz for the past three days, so if you have sent me their questions, that is why I haven't been able to get back to you yet!

Little Willow said...

I am glad to hear that the meeting went well, and that you had such an interesting, involved conversation. YAY SHUG!

"Outgrowing" a friend - or being the person who is outgrown - is never fun, no matter how old you are when it happens!

MotherReader said...

Oh LW, true dat.

Jenny, I now truly realize that one book can't please everyone. I mean, there are kids out there that hate Harry Potter. Whatcha gonna do? But what is great about Shug, is that though these girls didn't like it, they still got something out of the book. We could use the book to springboard our conversation about friends and crushes and peer pressure. So don't be sad at all. (I haven't sent the questions yet, but if there is some other email I should send them to let me know.)

Kelly said...

Wow! What a great writeup. I loved reading every second of it. Thanks for sharing.

Paige Y. said...

Perhaps this is why so many middle school students love fantasy -- it allows them to get away from the the problems and issues they face every day. Other students hate fantasy but love problem fiction -- they can relate to it. And then there are those delightful kids that if it has words on the page, they will read it.

Thank goodness there are so many choices for teens to read these days -- it's so much better than when I was in school.

tanita✿davis said...

Pam, this is such a cool idea. I love that you had girls who weren't down with the book choice, and a.) felt okay with expressing that and b.) STILL READ THE BOOK so they could belong to the book club. Oh, how I wish we could keep that attitude: still expose ourselves to ideas we may not appreciate so we can be part of the discussion. Brava, dissenting Scouts! SHUG is such a great book -- but you're right -- they'll find something else to love that others will be like, "Eh?"

You're such an awesome Troop Leader.

Caroline Hickey said...

A book club wouldn't be very interesting if EVERYONE liked the book -- it would just be all sugar and smiles! But a discussion where lots of different opinions are shared is beneficial to all the girls that attended.

Your Girl Scout Book Club sounds like a lot of fun! I'm sure they got a ton out of the experience and can't wait for the next one.

PS - I am a SHUG fan, of course. But then I was also one of those kids who loved realistic fiction, and still do. :)

Vivian Mahoney said...

This must have been such a thought provoking discussion. I loved Shug and would have automatically thought teens would love the book, so I find your post very interesting.

How cool the girls read the book and you were able to discuss other things that still tied in with the book. You totally rock. I bet your girls were proud.

Jason Pfeifer said...


I came across your blog post regarding book clubs. I'm Jason Pfeifer, I'm interested in book clubs and reading and discussing books online. So much so, that some friends and I started an online service called Booksprouts, that allows people to create book clubs, choose books, invite friends, and read and discuss online. We are currently seeking people who might be interested in trying the site out, and giving us feedback on the service. Additionally, we welcome you to blog about the site (good or bad) as a means of sharing feedback. We're really excited to hear what people think, and on how we can improve the site. It's 100% free.


Jason Pfeifer
Community Manager