Thursday, April 27, 2017

Long-Distance Book Club: The Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares

This whole blog is kind of like a long-distance book club, but sometimes we like to take it a step further by reading the same book at the same time. This time we read Ann Brashares's newest novel, The Whole Thing Together.

Our review was developed from our discussion of The Whole Thing Together. Below the review,  we've provided a list of questions that you can use to discuss this book in your book club, long-distance or otherwise. And, let me tell you, this book is what book club dreams are made of.

Finally, before we get to the review, I want to issue a general spoiler alert for the discussion questions. A good book club, after all, involves people who have actually read the book.

The Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares

Publisher / Year: Delacorte Press - April 2017

Genres: YA Contemporary - Family Drama

Source: Review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

Goodreads | Amazon

I read the publisher's summary for The Whole Thing Together several months ago and instantly knew I wanted to read this book. I don't do this too often, but I went into the book hoping for a certain type of thing in terms of both story and style. My very particular expectations could have led to a complete disaster, but, for the most part, this book was just what I wanted it to be.

Well, I couldn't keep my mouth shut about this glorious reading fortune, and so Paige said, "Hey, I want to read this book too." She read the book and then immediately read it again. This is how much we adored this book, folks. And so, it only seemed fitting to do a Long-Distance Book Club. Not only was I excited about talking with Paige about the book, but I really think that this book is book club gold. Paige and I clearly loved the book, but readers seem to be very divided over it, and, let's face it, don't strong feelings on both sides make for the best book club discussions?

The Whole Thing Together is about a complicated family. Sasha and Ray's parents used to be married. They had three daughters before a very messy divorce divided the family. Their parents remarried and Sasha and Ray were born. Although they've never met, Sasha and Ray have shared the same bedroom for all of their lives. It's a bedroom in the Long Island beach house that both Sasha's dad and Ray's mom refuse to give up. And so, despite all the bitter feelings and completely avoiding each other, the families have been sharing the beach house for all these years alternating weeks so that the parents would never have to see other. The three older sisters, Emma, Quinn, and Mattie are the bridge in all this mess, navigating between the two sides of their complicated family.

Paige and I really enjoyed the complicated family dynamics in this book. We really liked reading about a big family--one with a lot of kids and a lot of sisters. And we appreciated the sibling interaction.

We also loved the ensemble cast. No one character is really the star in this book. It's about the whole family, and the story floats from sibling to sibling. Also, this style of story telling is episodic in its nature, and we really enjoyed seeing how the various elements came together.

I think what I liked most about this book is the quiet atmosphere. It's a type of writing style that I really enjoy. It reminded me a bit of The Bone Gap or We Were Liars, and I know this style isn't to everyone's taste, but it just really works for me. I love a fast-paced story as much as anyone, but I really love to slow it down every once in awhile too.

Discussion Questions for The Whole Thing Together

Topic: The Ensemble Cast

Did you have a favorite sibling or one that you could most easily relate to? Whose story did you most enjoy? Did you enjoy the ensemble cast? If so, what about it worked for you, and if not, what did you dislike?

Topic: The Beach House

The beach house is the center of all the interactions between the two sides of this divided family. In what ways is the beach house a symbol of the family's life?

Topic: The Summer Jobs

All the siblings have summer jobs near the beach house. What is the significance of the summer jobs?
How do they kick off the big changes that are in store for this family?

Topic: The Second Marriages

Are Robert and Lila's second marriages any healthier than their first? Do you feel like Ray and Sasha's relationships with their parents are stunted because everyone is still so hung up on the first marriage?

Topic: The Parent-Child Relationships

How did the family dynamics get to this point? Discuss how Robert and Lila are passing their problems down to their children.

Topic: Race

Robert was a Bangladeshi orphan who was adopted by a Canadian couple. Lila is white. I have seen several reviewers who raise some good points about the way diversity was handled in this book. How did you feel about the way that race and diversity was handled in this book?

Topic: Ray and Sasha

How did you feel about Ray and Sasha's relationship? (We are divided on this topic. Lots of pros, but also some weirdness as well.)

Topic: Emma's Engagement

How did Emma's new relationship and the idea of adding another person into these already strained family dynamics bring this situation to a tipping point? What did you think about Jamie's relationship with his family? Why didn't Jamie prepare Emma better (or at all) for his family's dysfunction?

Topic: Mattie

Discuss Mattie's identity crisis and how it effects her relationship with her siblings, her mother, her father, and her co-worker, Matt.

Topic: Quinn

How was Quinn a healing force for her family? Did you have any premonitions about Quinn's destiny?

Topic: Healing and Hope

How do you think this family will do going forward? Is there hope and healing in their future?

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