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Jenna Bush Hager selects Kentucky-based love story for March 2022 book club pick

"In a time when our country does seem so divided, I felt like it would be a healing, beautiful book for so many to read."

After picking family drama "Black Cake" by Charmaine Wilkerson for February, Jenna Bush Hager has a coming-of-age romance for the Read With Jenna book club to dive into next.

For March 2022, the TODAY book expert selected "Groundskeeping" by Lee Cole.

"It’s a story about love and identity and where we are from," Jenna said. "It is about what makes us a family. I feel like it will lead to a lot of important conversation about what brings us together and what divides us."

Set in 2016 Kentucky, just prior to the election, aspiring writer Owen Callahan finds himself back home living with his uncle and grandfather. In exchange for writing courses, Owen becomes a groundskeeper at his local college. This is also how he meets and starts a secret relationship with writer-in-residence Alma Hazdic.

Alma comes from a very different background than Owen. She grew up in a liberal family of Bosnian immigrants. As the two become closer, they explore their different experiences of home and family during a divided moment in U.S. history.

"Anytime you meet somebody, there's always a level of self-consciousness and you're sort of seeing yourself through their eyes. And yeah, so that was all at play and in writing the love story," Cole told TODAY.

Cole drew inspiration for the novel from his own lived experience.

"While the events of the book are fictional, they do have their basis in my own experiences of homesickness, working as a tree trimmer and just trying to navigate my relationship with Kentucky," said Cole.

The book's opening line, "When I’m home, in Kentucky, all I want is to leave. When I’m away, I’m homesick for a place that never was," was a guiding theme for the author as he crafted his novel.

"In a time when our country does seem so divided, I felt like it would be a healing, beautiful book for so many to read," Jenna said.

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