For July, the Read With Jenna book club dove into "Friends and Strangers" by J. Courtney Sullivan. Told from alternating perspectives of a young mom named Elisabeth and her nanny, Sam, this is a book about what it means to live an authentic, happy and purposeful life.
From the outside, Elisabeth seems to have it all. With a beautiful baby and a loving husband, she is completing a three-book publishing deal. However, when she and her family move from their familiar Brooklyn neighborhood to her husband’s hometown in upstate New York, Elisabeth finds herself lonely and exhausted. She and her newly hired nanny, Sam, form an unlikely friendship that ultimately changes the course of their lives.
If you're looking for another book as gripping and beautiful as "Friends and Strangers," Sullivan recommends five books for readers to dive into next.
1. "Girl, Woman, Other" by Bernardine Evaristo
This page-turning novel tells the stories of 12 different characters spanning time and place — spread out across Britain — as they face joys and hardships in their lives. "Girl, Woman, Other" is a daring exploration of femininity and identity as it shines a new light on the history of the Black British experience
2. "My Salinger Year" by Joanna Rakoff
Author Joanna Rakoff writes a clever memoir about her time in New York City in the '90s working as an assistant to the renowned literary agent for J.D. Salinger. Assigned the role of processing fan mail written to Salinger, she can't help but venture from the company's formal response as she reads the heart-wrenching letters sent in from around the world. As she attempts to take on his voice, she begins to uncover her own.
Rakoff's hilarious and moving story is a tribute to the literary industry as it sat on the brink of massive change.
3. "Silver Sparrow" by Tayari Jones
Jame Witherspoon has two families: one public and the other kept a secret. Tayari Jones' "Silver Sparrow" tells the complex story of two middle-class families living in Atlanta in the 1980s after teenage daughters from each family meet and form a friendship in which only one of them knows they are sisters.
The heartbreaking story explores what it means to be family and the complexity of relationships.
4. "Want" by Lynn Steger Strong
Set in New York City, "Want" explores economic fragility, motherhood and the complexity of being female and desiring more for yourself. The protagonist, Elizabeth, is a mother and wife with a Ph.D. who finds herself working two jobs and filling for bankruptcy. At the brink of crisis, she reaches out to an old friend, Sasha, who, in a twist of fate, is also experiencing hardship at that moment.
Through anger and humor, the book tackles the broken American dream and explores the subtle acts of violence that women face as they try to achieve anything of substance.
5. "The Need" by Helen Phillips
This thriller is about Molly, a mother of two, who comes face to face with an intruder while home alone with her children. Molly must face her fragility as she struggles to protect the ones she loves most.
With twists you might not anticipate, the book balances dark comedy with horror as it explores the duality of motherhood through a brilliant and sophisticated plot.
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For more book recommendations, check out:
- 16 highly anticipated summer books you won't be able to put down
- 7 books to read right now, according to a New York Times bestselling author
- Looking for an inspirational story? 10 feel-good books to read right now
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