Let’s face it: usually most book clubs only discuss the book for about 20 minutes, then we’re off to weekend plans and family updates and discussions of the world’s problems.
Am I right?
But recently when my book club met via Zoom to discuss Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones, we talked about the book for more than an hour.
This is extremely noteworthy.
So let’s talk about why this book generated so much conversation.
First, this book deals with hard topics. It’s set during the Atlanta Child Murders of the early 1980s, and anytime bad things happen to children, that’s some rough subject matter. One of my friends said she had a difficult time sleeping one night, after finishing the second section of the book — and I understand why; much about these characters’ stories is heartbreaking.
So that was another topic we discussed — the way fiction has the power to create empathy.
Through Jones’s pitch-perfect dialogue and insights into the minds of children, we found that she captured much that is universal about childhood, while also providing a window into the lives of Black children living with economic insecurity and fear of a predator.
This novel is divided into three sections, with each one focusing on a different child’s point of view. The three children attend school together, so like any multiple-viewpoint novel, we get to see characters from different angles. (I love that.)
The other thing that’s wonderful about this book is that Jones uses a close third-person viewpoint for the first two sections, and a first-person narrative for the final section. We talked about the genius of this choice, which allows Jones’s lyrical descriptions to permeate the first two sections. Her writing is gorgeous; by the time I finished reading the first page of the book, I was humming with pleasure because her writing is so evocative.
Then, with the final section, we hear the voice of a character coming through — so the emotional power of the book is brought home in that final section, as we walk with young Octavia through her experience.
Our group had an in-depth discussion of the situation at the end of the second section — discussing the character’s mindset. Like I said, it’s an agonizing thing to read and to ponder, but it’s important and it invites us to face our shared humanity, even in the worst moments. It’s one of the most heart-felt discussions we’ve ever had as a group.
Tayari Jones provides discussion questions on her website, which we looked up partway through our discussion to make sure we didn’t overlook anything. (It’s a pdf, which I can’t figure out how to link — so you can find it by Googling: Leaving Atlanta Tayari Jones questions)
We cannot recommend this book more highly.
If your book club has read it, or decides to read it, please tell us about your discussion. It’s always fascinating to hear about book discussions and how they approach a book.