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8 best book club books to discuss, debate and enjoy

Get the conversation flowing at your next meeting with these page-turners

Kat Brown
Friday 28 May 2021 11:55 BST
A good book club book should spark discussion from the very first chapter
A good book club book should spark discussion from the very first chapter (The Independent)

Finding the best books to read with your book club can feel like an uphill battle, especially when you have members with particular tastes (to put it mildly), and at least one who will try and wing it on the day.

Given the year we’ve just had, that leeway needs to extend to the whole group, so we have rounded up a selection of great book club books that will make you all actively look forward to the next meet-up, rather than wishing you could read something else.

We were looking for stories with strong angles for discussion, and which draw the reader along – no sense of duty here, please, a good book club book should be enjoyable to read as well as interesting, otherwise nobody will bother to finish it.

We have also chosen books that are of wide enough interest to appeal to even the fussiest genre snob: recent publications to keep things fresh, a crime novel for people who wouldn’t ordinarily try crime, a thoughtful thriller, and a Booker Prize-winner so delightful to read that it’ll make even the most doubting of literary fiction-deniers take a second look the next time they pass a shortlist in their local book shop.

And above all, there is plenty to talk about – so with that in mind, let’s dig in.

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The best book club books for 2021 are:

  • Best overallGirl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo, published by St Martin’s Press: £7.99,
  • Best for re-entryGrown Ups by Marie Aubert, published by Pushkin Press: £12.08,
  • Best for buzz snobsThe Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris, published by Bloomsbury: £12.99,
  • Best “what if?” readThe Midnight Library by Matt Haig, published by Canongate: £7.25,
  • Best for escapism Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, published by Little Brown: £8.36,
  • Best YA bookThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, published by Walker Books: £7.43,
  • Best for styleThe Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman, published by Penguin: £4.49,
  • Best page-turnerGirl A by Abigail Dean, published by HarperCollins: £12.99,

‘Girl, Woman, Other’ by Bernardine Evaristo, published by St Martin’s Press

Girl Woman Other .jpg

Best: Overall

This sunny, electrifying, and artfully assembled book follows 12 women over the past 100 years and provides a terrific portrait of Britain in the process. Packed with betrayals, friendship, triumphs, and mistakes, Evaristo’s book carries you with each woman’s story before passing you on to the next.

Each character has their own tics in language and style, but Evaristo breathes such life into them and the events that make them that you’ll barely remember you’re reading. Winners of major literary prizes have divided readerships through the years, but this truly is one to unify even the most picky book club. It’s simply fantastic and every character you meet leaves you better than when you found them – except Dominique. Dominique’s just awful.

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‘Grown Ups’ by Marie Aubert, published by Pushkin Press

Grown ups .jpg

Best: For re-entry

Ida is a successful architect, and the elder of her mother’s two daughters. At 40, and single, she is about to start freezing her eggs, but puts her concerns to one side as she visits the family cabin for her mum’s 65 th birthday. Some unexpected news from her sister, living in apparent bliss with her husband and stepdaughter, causes old family power struggles to come to a head in an enchantingly funny novella which will ring uncomfortably true to anyone with a sibling or a tricky parental relationship.

With multiple lockdowns having caused many of us to lose the ability to concentrate on anything longer than a cereal packet, the prospect of launching into some enormous door stopper typical of book clubs-past may not be quite what’s needed. Grown Ups, a fantastic debut by Norwegian author Aubert, is the perfect palate cleanser. Given a zippy translation by Rosie Hedger, it has loads to talk about, is beautifully written and is short enough to read in an afternoon. It’s out on 3 June, but available to pre-order now.

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‘The Other Black Girl’ by Zakiya Dalila Harris, published by Bloomsbury

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Best: For buzz snobs

So strong has the anticipation been for this novel that you’d be forgiven for thinking it had come out in 2019 rather than this June. Harris’s debut is the perfect choice for book clubs who only pick the buzziest of reads, and here it’s completely deserved. Twenty-something Nella is clinging on to her assistant’s job at a prestigious – and extremely white – New York publishing firm, in the hopes of eventually being made editor.

As the only black employee, she is exhausted of only being allowed near books with black characters, and of the tone-deaf attitudes of her co-workers. When Hazel joins as another assistant, Nella thinks she’s finally found an ally in this black, glamorous girl. But things are about to get very dark before they get better. Publishing’s dominance by upper-middle class white women is also very much a UK issue, and Harris’s gripping story offers plenty to chew on – especially in areas that we can’t mention for fear of spoiling the fun. Released 1 June, and available to pre-order now.

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‘The Midnight Library’ by Matt Haig, published by Canongate

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Best: “What if?” read

While in recent years Haig has become best-known as a writer of inspiring non-fiction, his extensive backlist of conceptual novels such as The Humans and How to Stop Time have also earned him an army of fans. The Midnight Library straddles the two strands perfectly, a high-concept story that has lashings of heart. Nora’s life has been going from bad to worse when, at midnight, she is transported to a library run by a suspiciously familiar librarian who gives her the chance to erase past regrets, by opening books that contain the lives she could have led, and choosing to go down a new path.

However, time in the library is limited, and Nora must choose a life to stick with before it crumbles. While Haig’s style can be divisive, there is plenty to get stuck into in Nora’s experience of revisiting old wounds.  Who wouldn’t want the chance to visit their own Midnight Library? Or to make peace with the choices we made?

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‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ by Delia Owens, published by Little Brown

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Best: For escapism

While a sun-lounger may still not be an option this year, it’s more likely to be in the back garden, or on a British beach, rather than somewhere more exotic. Owens’ hit novel (optioned by Reese Witherspoon for her book club, and her film production company) is classic holiday material, and her setting in the 1960s marshlands of North Carolina is just the ticket for taking your book club away from the past year.

Kya, an illiterate young girl, is slowly abandoned by her troubled family, and ostracised by the inhabitants of the nearby fishing village. Inspired by Owens’ own experience of years living in the wilds of America, this is a classic drama of period and place, with enough of a thriller element to keep you guessing to the final page.

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‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas, published by Walker Books

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Best: YA book

Considering how much criticism was given to adult readers of the Harry Potter books when they came out, it’s a huge relief that young adult fiction has come to greater respect in older readers. This is partly down to the way that YA novels have dominated the cinematic box office over the past 20 years (the adaptation of 2017’s The Hate U Give among them), but also down to the fact that you simply can’t argue with a fascinating story, skilfully told.

In this, Thomas’s debut (her third novel, Concrete Rose, published this year, is a prequel of sorts), 16-year-old student Starr is caught between the worlds of her prestigious, and mostly-white, school, and the poor, majority-black neighbourhood in which she has lived since birth. When she witnesses the police shooting of her best friend, she is unwillingly brought into the public eye, and faces a choice about staying hidden, or taking a stand.

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‘The Thursday Murder Club’ by Richard Osman, published by Penguin

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Best: For style

A group of sharp retirees at an upper-crust retirement village meet every week to try and solve cold cases, and when they find themselves at the heart of a murder, they try and get to the whodunnit before the police can. Heartwarming, ingenious, and with much to say about how British society treats its elderly – and how they would much rather be treated.

You won’t be stuck for discussion points in this rollicking comic crime novel, even if your first one is “How dare the man also be so good at writing?” Renaissance-man Osman, a long-time TV producer-turned-presenter-turned novelist, turns out one of the best books of recent years here with an opening chapter so joyfully funny you’ll feel as though you’ve never read a book before this one.

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‘Girl A’ by Abigail Dean, published by HarperCollins

Girl A .jpg

Best: Page-turner

Another excellent debut with a top-notch concept: if Eleanor Oliphant and Room combined for a whodunnit, but we already knew whodunnit. Lexie Grace is a lawyer – but growing up, she was “Girl A”, the girl who escaped from a house of horrors overseen by her violent father and her submissive mother. When her mother dies, Lexie is summoned to divide up the house among her numerous siblings, each of whom have responded to their appalling childhoods in different ways.

Dean imagines a fascinating variety of “what next?” for children and young adults who have endured such abuse and whose survival leads them to become subjects of public fascination. Her page-turning narrative takes many ingenious turns offering plenty to discuss, and true reader catharsis for the Grace family, and those who inspired Dean’s story.

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The verdict: Book club books

Bernardine Evaristo’s book is a thing of absolute wonder, at once recognisable and inspiring – and fantastic. If your book club didn’t already inhale Girl, Woman, Other during one of the lockdowns, you will all have a real treat in store for your first IRL meeting.

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