'A Constellation of Vital Phenomena' by Anthony Marra
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is not as popular as some of the other books on this list, but this story of an orphan in the Russian-Chechen war is poignant and lyrical. It is a great read that also can open discussion about a lesser known conflict.
'Behind the Beautiful Forevers' by Katherine Boo
Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a nonfiction book written in a narrative style. Katherine Boo spent several years in an Indian slum. In the book, she uses one family's story to highlight the realities of life in the slum. The book does not give easy answers of a prescription for change, but it will give groups plenty to discuss.
'In the Shadow of the Banyan' by Vaddey Ratner
In the Shadow of the Banyan is officially fiction, but Ratner admits in the author's note that it is basically her story -- making it fiction just gave her freedom with some of the details. This is the story of a girl in Cambodia during the period of the Khmer Rouge and the killing fields. It is a heavy book, but the writing is beautiful and the story is important.
'The Fault in Our Stars' by John Green
John Green's young adult novel should not be limited to teens. Book clubs of all ages will find much to discuss in this book about two teenagers with cancer. Although the novel raises large existential questions, it also is very funny.
- Book review of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
- The Fault in Our Stars Book Club Discussion Questions
'The Night Circus' by Erin Morgenstern
Water for Elephants meets A Discovery of Witches in The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. This fantasy creates a world that can enchant readers. It is a fun read with enough substance for book clubs to have a full discussion.
'Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother' by Amy Chua
Few things can bring out strong opinions as easily as discussions about parenting -- especially if your group is made up of people with children. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is a provocative look at Chinese parenting compared to American parenting. It is told through one woman's true story of raising her daughters. This book led to one of my book club's liveliest discussions.
- Book Review of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
'War' by Sebastian Junger
'Little Bee' by Chris Cleave
Chris Cleave is an author who knows how to write. Although his novels deal with heavy topics, they also contain laugh out loud moments and characters that you will want to know. Little Bee is the story of a refugee in London. It is sad, but beautiful, and will give book clubs plenty of social and moral issues to discuss.
'Cutting for Stone' by Abraham Verghese
Cutting for Stone is a slow but gripping story of twin boys raised in a mission hospital in Ethiopia. Verghese develops his characters well, and his medical background (he is a physician) allows him to bring alive details about the hospital and patient care. This was a favorite with my book club!
'The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society' by Shaffer & Barrows
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a sweet, feel good story that is not saccharine. Indeed, the action takes place during and immediately following Nazi occupation of the island of Guernsey during World War II. The characters, however, are very lovable and there is an underlying goodness in the story that can be a refreshing break from overly heavy literary fiction.
'The Thirteenth Tale' by Diane Setterfield
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield remains one of my favorite books, and was a hit with everyone in my book club. It is a book lover's book, taking place at times in old book shops and giving a nod to classic literature. At its core, though, it is just a very good story with a mystery that makes it hard to put down until that last page.
'Water for Elephants' by Sara Gruen
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen has been a book club favorite since its release in 2006. It is the story of a circus veterinarian during the Great Depression who falls in love with a performer and her elephant. The story has history, suspense and romance.