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Jenna Bush Hager selects epic adventure novel for May 2021 book club pick

"I’m not sure I have ever highlighted such an ambitious novel," said Jenna.
/ Source: TODAY

Jenna Bush Hager's May book club pick is all about female empowerment with the novel "Great Circle," by Maggie Shipstead.

"Now, more than ever, I love reading about women who chart their own courses," said Jenna. "As a mom of two little girls and a young boy, I believe it is important to highlight fictional and nonfictional stories of fierce, independent women who don’t conform to what society says we need to be."

She added: "I have been a fan of Maggie Shipstead for a while. I read her book 'Seating Arrangements' and I just love her writing."

"Great Circle," by Maggie Shipstead

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Shipstead's newest book tells the story of a woman before her time, Marian Graves. Born in 1914, Marian drops out of school at the age of 14 to follow her passion for aviation. She becomes a pilot after a wealthy bootlegger provides her with a plane and lessons, a debt she pays back for the rest of her life.

A century later, Hadley Baxter is an actor caught in the prison of celebrity culture in Hollywood. When she is cast to play Marian in a film about the pilot’s disappearance in Antarctica, the two women’s fates collide.

"It's sweeping," said Jenna. "It goes from the early 1900s all the way through present day. I’m not sure I have ever highlighted such an ambitious novel."

The author's original idea for the book came to her when she saw the statue of Jean Batten, a woman famous for being the first person to fly alone from England to New Zealand, while at the Auckland airport on New Zealand's North Island.

"Her (Batten's) quote became the first line of the book, which is, 'I was born to be a wanderer,'" said Shipstead.

And wander Marian does. The main character travels the globe, and the importance of accurate settings was not lost on Shipstead while she wrote.

"I wanted to be very accurate about the places I used because she (Marian) would be observant about them, and I wanted to show some of the variety," said the author, who has traveled to every place mentioned in the book.

Through Hadley's character, Shipstead worked in her fascination with Hollywood and love for her hometown of Los Angeles.

"Hadley, of course, is quite different in some ways. She shows just the scrutiny, especially that public women are under, and how you can sort of never be entirely correct in how you go about being a woman, according to some people," said Shipstead.

The book will be an epic adventure for readers.

"I think both women, although flawed, are representing how women can be their own people," said Jenna, "and how all of us can find ourselves in the stories of those that came before."

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