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Jenna Bush Hager picks 'timely' novel about Black experience in US for July 2021

"I think it ("Hell of a Book") is going to lead to some incredible conversations," said Jenna.
/ Source: TODAY

Every month, Read With Jenna fans rely on Jenna Bush Hager to recommend something new and different for them to read. In June, the TODAY with Hoda & Jenna co-host selected the perfect beach read with "Malibu Rising," by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

For July, Jenna chose Jason Mott's fourth novel, "Hell of a Book."

"'Hell of a Book' by Jason Mott is original, heartbreaking, poignant and in moments, hilarious," said Jenna.

The book has two parallel storylines. In one, there is an unnamed Black author on a book tour through contemporary America. In the other, a young Black boy named Soot is growing up in the American South.

The unnamed author is funny. Reality blurs as he experiences bizarre moments on tour and continues to encounter another unnamed character, known as The Kid.

Meanwhile, in Soot’s story, we read about the injustices and fears faced by a young Black boy growing up in the South.

"It is a timely exploration into what it means to be a Black man living in America," said Jenna. "It’s a beautiful story about family love and dedication to finding out who we are."

In an interview with TODAY, Mott shared that the fictional story is more autobiographical than a reader might assume. He was inspired to start the book after going on his own book tour in 2013.

"It's funny because I poke fun at agents and publicists a lot in the story. And when my agent actually read it for the first time — my agent who's a very wonderful person, by the way — the first thing she said was, 'Hey, do you and I need to have a conversation about me?'" said Mott.

Along with that event, he drew on his lifetime of thoughts, feelings and experiences as a Black man with the hope of giving readers a new lens through which to see issues of race and inequality.

The "Wonder of All Things" author said, "Writing is very much the place where I go to kind of sort out my emotional and mental stressors."

While many of the themes in the book are heavy and powerful, inserting moments of comic relief was important to Mott.

"It is a book that I tried to make very serious but also very lighthearted. I hope that people are able to laugh as much they're able to think," said Mott. "I just want it to be a ride that people don't forget about for a long time."

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