In August, Jenna announced her Read with Jenna book club pick was "The Many Daughters of Afong Moy" by Jamie Ford.
The book follows many generations of the same family, starting with a reimagining of the real-life figure Afong Moy, historically considered to be the first Chinese woman to come to the United States.
Ford imagined how a pattern of abandonment and missed connections might repeat itself among Afong's descendants, through the year 2085. He calls the book an "epigenetic love story," referring to epigenetics, the notion that your behaviors and experiences can affect how your genes are expressed (and the genes of your descendants).
Ford told TODAY he had to keep track of the many plot lines by creating a chart, which he still has hanging up in his Montana home. "I had just a wall of craziness, which I had left up just because it pleases me. All of that was distilled into something that another human can, can read and appreciate," Ford said.
Below, find discussion questions and a reading guide for the book.
- This story is told in alternating timelines across many characters. Who did you relate to the most? Was there one story you wished there was more of?
- In the opening chapter, Faye Moy reads from an Edgar Allan Poe poem, “But we loved with a love that was more than love . . .” How do you think the characters show their capacity for love? Most of the characters seem to be driven by love. How do you think that affects their decisions? How does it affect the final outcome of the book?
- Dorothy Moy recognizes some characteristics that she shares with her young daughter. How do you think that realization makes her feel? This book is all about how we can share trauma through a family line. What are some shared traits, positive and negative, that connect you to your family?
- The relationship between Louis and Dorothy is very volatile. Why do you think that she stays with him?
- The theme of fate versus choice runs throughout this novel. Pick out some of the moments where a different choice made by a character might have led to a different outcome. What stopped the character from making a better choice? Do you think it was external or internal forces that informed the decision?
- At one point, Dorothy wonders if art can only be created through pain and trauma. What do you think? Can there be great art created from joy?
- What was your reaction to Summerhill? Did it seem like it was an ideal school? Were all the normal hierarchies of school still present? What was your expectation for how their political experiment in fascism would play out?
- A lot of the women in this book have very little agency over their lives and bodies. Discuss how that changed for each generation in the story. How would you say that women are treated today in the real world? What has changed since the time of Afong Moy in the 1800s? What changes do you see in the future?
- Greta Moy designs a dating app called Syren that is female-led and meant to be empowering to women. Unfortunately, it is ultimately taken down by the actions of a man. What did you think about the decisions made by Greta in meeting with Carter? How did he manipulate the situation?
- This book takes a peek at the year 2086 with high-speed trains and driverless cars. What are some advancements you hope to see in the next twenty years? What do you hope future generations might get to see?
- Dorothy is able to drastically change the lives of her family members and herself through an experimental treatment. Would you take part in an experiment? What might deter you? What would make it enticing? What, if anything, would you change in the lives of your ancestors?
- Discuss your reaction to the ending. Was it a satisfying ending?
For more book recommendations, check out:
- The best beach reads of all time, according to authors
- What beach read to pick up this summer, based on your zodiac sign
- All of Jenna Bush Hager's book club picks