Featured favorites: Ideas for book club books

immortallifehenrietta

Bunch of Grapes

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot – In 1951 Henrietta Lacks, a black mother of five, dies of cervical cancer. Unbeknownst to the family, doctors have take tissue samples from her cervix for research. These samples have an amazing reproductive rate. These cells known as HeLa have been used for research for years across the world. Money has been made, but not by the family. If a person’s tissue has been taken, who does it belong to, the person or the doctor/hospital?

“The Language of Flowers” by Vanessa Diffenbaugh – At 18, Victoria has “aged-out” of the foster care system. She has doesn’t have work, social skills, family, or friends. She sleeps under a bush in the park near a florist. She offers to help in the shop, and uses her knowledge of the hidden meaning of flowers, something she learned from Elizabeth, her one good foster parent. As she struggles to find her way, she comes to understand what really happened between her and Elizabeth.

“Midnight Rising” by Tony Horwitz – Northern abolitionists were giving sermons and speeches, writing essays against Southern slavery. John Brown, a staunch Calvinist, tired of inaction, leading a band of idealist adventurers and freed slaves including his own sons, plots in secret the raid on Harpers Ferry. Often you doubt Brown’s sanity, but not his zealous fight for the oppressed. This book is ripe for group discussion.

“The Buddha in the Attic” by Julie Otsuka – Written in an unusual but engaging style, Otsuka gives us the story of a group of young Japanese women who come to the U.S. just prior to WWII as mail-order brides for Japanese men already here. This book is the story of their trip, their arrival, the meeting of their new husbands, the birth of their children, who would begin to scorn the old culture, and the changes that happen when the U.S. goes to war with Japan. This is a quick read that makes the reader realize how little of American history we know.

“Catherine the Great” by Robert Massie – Born into a minor noble German family, Catherine, with intelligence and determination, turns herself into the Empress of Russia. Many of the stories about her, that are still part of “folklore” today, are put to rest as Massie, in this narrative biography, shows us the life of this flawed but extremely capable woman who dealt with rebellion, foreign wars, and the vast political changes that swept Europe, to rule Russia for 34 years.