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Monarch Book Club

November 2023: The Humans by Matt Haig

Book Cover of Song of Achilles

About the book

When an extraterrestrial visitor arrives on Earth, his first impressions of the human species are less than positive. Taking the form of Professor Andrew Martin, a leading mathematician at Cambridge University, the visitor wants to complete his task and return home to his planet and a utopian society of immortality and infinite knowledge.

He is disgusted by the way humans look, what they eat, and the wars they witness on the news, and is totally baffled by concepts such as love and family. But as time goes on, he starts to realize there may be more to this weird species than he has been led to believe. He drinks wine, reads Emily Dickinson, listens to Talking Heads, and begins to bond with the family he lives with, in disguise. In picking up the pieces of the professor's shattered personal life, the narrator sees hope and redemption in the humans' imperfections and begins to question the very mission that brought him there--a mission that involves not only thwarting human progress...but murder.


Discussion Questions

  1. What is the significance of the alien perspective in this novel? How does it shed light on human behavior and society?

  2. Throughout the book, the narrator is trying to figure out how the human race operates. Have you ever felt like everyday occurrences seem alien to you? How did you feel when trying to understand how to act or what to do?

  3. If you did not know that the narrator was an alien from another planet, how would that have affected your understanding of the character?

  4. The book raises questions about the limitations and potential dangers of technological progress. How does Haig use the character of Professor Martin to explore these issues?

  5. Every detail about the human experience was described as alien by the narrator as he is from the planet, Vannadoria, and knows nothing about the human race. How did reading about the human experience from this perspective make you feel about your own existence as a human?

  6. Throughout the novel, the narrator encounters various definitions of love. Which definition spoke to you the most? Why? Why is love such a difficult concept to comprehend?

  7. The narrator chooses to live his life as a human giving up his immortality and mathematical perfection. Would you have done the same thing? Do you agree that his world was ultimately empty?

April 2023: Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Book Cover of Song of Achilles

About the book

In a small back alley in Tokyo, there is a café which has been serving carefully brewed coffee for more than one hundred years. But this coffee shop offers its customers a unique experience: the chance to travel back in time.

In Before the Coffee Gets Cold, we meet four visitors, each of whom is hoping to make use of the café’s time-travelling offer, in order to: confront the man who left them, receive a letter from their husband whose memory has been taken by early onset Alzheimer's, to see their sister one last time, and to meet the daughter they never got the chance to know. But the journey into the past does not come without risks: customers must sit in a particular seat, they cannot leave the café, and finally, they must return to the present before the coffee gets cold ...

Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s beautiful, moving story explores the age-old question: what would you change if you could travel back in time? More importantly, who would you want to meet, maybe for one last time?


Discussion Questions

  1. What did you think of the book? Was there anything you particularly liked or didn’t like about it?

  2. This story was originally a play by the same author. How does the theatrical structure of the plot affect the story? Does it give it more charm, or take away from the depth?

  3. Throughout the book we are reminded of the rules, with new information added each time. How do the rules affect the narrative? Are the rules good? Should there have been different rules?

  4. What did you think of the café staff and their attitude toward time travel and patrons who seek it?

  5. Each of the character’s had very different reasons for time traveling. Do you feel any character – all of them or one in particular – was satisfied with the knowledge gained from their time travel?

  6. Would you time travel yourself if given the option under the book’s parameters? If yes, would you travel back in time or to the future?

November 2022: Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets Of The Universe, Benjamin Alire Saenz

Book Cover of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets fo the Universe

About the book

Dante can swim. Ari can't. Dante is articulate and self-assured. Ari has a hard time with words and suffers from self-doubt. Dante gets lost in poetry and art. Ari gets lost in thoughts of his older brother who is in prison. Dante is fair skinned. Ari's features are much darker. It seems that a boy like Dante, with his open and unique perspective on life, would be the last person to break down the walls that Ari has built around himself.

But against all odds, when Ari and Dante meet, they develop a special bond that will teach them the most important truths of their lives, and help define the people they want to be. But there are big hurdles in their way, and only by believing in each other―and the power of their friendship―can Ari and Dante emerge stronger on the other side


Discussion Questions

  1. What did you think of the book? Would you recommend it to others?

  2. Why do Ari and Dante become friends? What personality traits does Ari most admire in Dante and why?

  3. Ari is depicted throughout the story as being lonely. What factors account for his loneliness and confusion? What role do his parents play in helping him accept his identity?

  4. Ari is curious about his brother; however, he refuses to open an envelope that contains information about his brother that he finds tucked away in a drawer. Why does he not open the folder?

  5. Ari’s mom says, “I’m an educated woman. That doesn’t un-Mexicanize me, Ari.” What does this imply about what it means to be Mexican or Chicano in our country? What does it mean to be an educated woman in our culture?

  6. In the beginning of the story, Ari doesn’t understand his father. He describes him as a “mystery.” As Ari matures he says, “I came to understand that my father was a careful man.” Explain Ari’s acceptance and understanding of his father.

  7. The novel is written from Ari’s point of view. How might the story be different were it written from Dante’s perspective?


October 2022: Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller

Book Cover of Song of Achilles

About the book

Achilles, "the best of all the Greeks," son of the cruel sea goddess Thetis and the legendary king Peleus, is strong, swift, and beautiful, irresistible to all who meet him. Patroclus is an awkward young prince, exiled from his homeland after an act of shocking violence. Brought together by chance, they forge an inseparable bond, despite risking the gods' wrath.

They are trained by the centaur Chiron in the arts of war and medicine, but when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, all the heroes of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the cruel Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.

Discussion Questions

  1. What did you think of the book? Was there anything you particularly liked or didn’t like about it?

  2. In the Iliad, Patroclus is a relatively minor character.  Why do you think the author chose him to be her narrator? Which other figures in the story might make interesting narrators?

  3. To what extent does Achilles’ ultimate destiny shape his choices?  Is there such a thing as free will in this world?

  4. Patroclus is often a self-critical narrator.  Consider how other characters in the novel regard him—do they see him in the same way he sees himself?

  5. Patroclus tells Thetis that he is “made of memories.”  What does he mean by that?  What role does memory—both personal and cultural—play in the novel?

  6. Do Greek myths matter in our modern world? Why or why not?

March 2022: Conversations with Friends, Sally Rooney

Cover art of the book Conversations with Friends

About the book

Frances is twenty-one years old, cool-headed, and darkly observant. A college student and aspiring writer, she devotes herself to a life of the mind--and to the beautiful and endlessly self-possessed Bobbi, her best friend and comrade-in-arms. Lovers at school, the two young women now perform spoken-word poetry together in Dublin, where a journalist named Melissa spots their potential. Drawn into Melissa's orbit, Frances is reluctantly impressed by the older woman's sophisticated home and tall, handsome husband. Private property, Frances believes, is a cultural evil--and Nick, a bored actor who never quite lived up to his potential, looks like patriarchy made flesh. But however amusing their flirtation seems at first, it gives way to a strange intimacy neither of them expect. As Frances tries to keep her life in check, her relationships increasingly resist her control: with Nick, with her difficult and unhappy father, and finally even with Bobbi. Desperate to reconcile herself to the desires and vulnerabilities of her body, Frances's intellectual certainties begin to yield to something new: a painful and disorienting way of living from moment to moment.

Discussion Questions

  1. What did you think of Conversations with Friends? Would you recommend it? To whom? Why?

  2. What did you think of the book’s epistolary form (its use of emails and text messages as part of the narrative)? Did it lend the story authenticity or did it seem contrived to you?

  3. What was Francis and Bobbi's relationship early on … and how has it evolved? Who has the power in the relationship and in what way? Does the power equation change?

  4. How is the friendship between Frances and Bobbi affected by the affair between Frances and Nick?

  5. Frances struggles with endometriosis and self-harm throughout the novel. How would you characterize her relationship with her body? In what ways does this affect her relationships with those around her?

  6. Social class–both in terms of wealth and cultural capital–is a key thread running throughout the book. How do you think class influences the characters in the book and how they relate to one another?

  7. The novel ends on an ambiguous note. Were you surprised by the last lines? What do you think will happen with Frances and Nick’s relationship?


February 2022: Honey Girl, by Morgan Rogers

Cover art of the book Honey Gir

About the book

With her newly completed PhD in astronomy in hand, twenty-eight-year-old Grace Porter goes on a girls’ trip to Vegas to celebrate. She is not the kind of person who goes to Vegas and gets drunkenly married to a woman whose name she doesn’t know…until she does exactly that.

This one moment of departure from her stern ex-military father’s plans for her life has Grace wondering why she doesn’t feel more fulfilled from completing her degree. Staggering under the weight of her father’s expectations, a struggling job market and feelings of burnout, Grace flees her home in Portland for a summer in New York with the wife she barely knows.

When reality comes crashing in, Grace must face what she’s been running from all along—the fears that make us human, the family scars that need to heal and the longing for connection, especially when navigating the messiness of adulthood.

Discussion Questions

  1. What did you think of the book? What was your favorite part of the book? What was your least favorite part?

  2. Friendship and found family play a big role in this book (maybe even more than the romance?) Did you like Grace's and Yuki's friend groups? Any favorite side characters or anyone you strongly resonated with?

  3. Honey Girl is part rom-com, part coming-of-age story. Did you feel like the book fit more firmly in one genre over the other? How did Grace’s marriage to Yuki influence her coming-of-age journey?

  4. Grace and Yuki get married knowing hardly anything about one another other. Grace doesn’t even know Yuki’s name! Would you consider their marriage a mistake? Or something else?

  5. Grace’s failure to meet her own high expectations and those of the Colonel play a major role in the story. What do you think about these high standards? Why do you think they’re so important to Grace and the Colonel?

  6. There is a theme of mental health issues running through the book, and many characters have their own personal struggles. Going to therapy is a big part of Grace's journey, but not a magic fix. She still has to confront her problems and make amends to people she has hurt. Do you think that was realistically written?

  7. How would you describe the book to a friend who hadn’t read it? Would you recommend it?


November 2021: The Cost of Knowing by Brittney Morris

Cover art for the book The Cost of Knowing

About the book

Sixteen-year-old Alex Rufus is trying his best. He tries to be the best employee he can be at the local ice cream shop; the best boyfriend he can be to his amazing girlfriend, Talia; the best protector he can be over his little brother, Isaiah. But as much as Alex tries, he often comes up short.

It’s hard to for him to be present when every time he touches an object or person, Alex sees into its future. When he touches a scoop, he has a vision of him using it to scoop ice cream. When he touches his car, he sees it years from now, totaled and underwater. When he touches Talia, he sees them at the precipice of breaking up, and that terrifies him. Alex feels these visions are a curse, distracting him, making him anxious and unable to live an ordinary life.

And when Alex touches a photo that gives him a vision of his brother’s imminent death, everything changes.

With Alex now in a race against time, death, and circumstances, he and Isaiah must grapple with their past, their future, and what it means to be a young Black man in America in the present.

Discussion Questions

  1. What did you think of the book?

  2. Throughout the novel, Alex feels ashamed about his anxiety and fear; he asks himself what kind of man he is, feels nervous about sharing his feelings with Talia, and keeps his visions a secret instead of asking for help. Where do you think this shame comes from? How do you feel his attitude towards anxiety evolves?

  3. After Shaun’s funeral, his mom, Maria Gomez, struggles to buy groceries and pay rent. Alex feels pressure to provide for Maria and Talia since they no longer have Shaun to help care for them. How do you think identities like race, gender, and socioeconomic status affect the process of grieving a loved one?

  4. Aunt Mackie reminds Alex that “‘Joy in the midst of oppression is its own kind of bravery.’” What does she mean by that, and why does Alex keep repeating the mantra to himself? Does bravery look different across race and gender?

  5. Alex is convinced people don’t truly want to know future milestones because the “not-knowing is what makes life meaningful,” but one of the first things Isaiah asks after learning Alex’s power is how his life will play out. Why do you think Isaiah insists? Would you want to know your future?

October 2021: They Could Have Named Her Anything by Stephanie Jimenez

Cover art fro the book They Could Have Named Her Anything

About the book

Every morning, seventeen-year-old Maria Anís Rosario takes the subway an hour from her boisterous and close-knit family in Queens to her private high school on the Upper East Side, where she struggles to fit in as one of the only Latina students—until Rocky welcomes her into this new life. White, rebellious, and ignored by her wealthy parents, Rocky uses her money toward one goal: to get away with anything. To Maria, it’s a dazzling privilege.

As a bond develops between these unlikely friends, neither can see what they share most—jealousy and the desire for each other’s lives. But crackling under the surface of their seemingly supportive alliance, the girls begin to commit little betrayals as they strive to get closer to their ideals regardless of the consequences.

Told from the perspectives of Maria, Rocky, and their fathers, They Could Have Named Her Anything explores the heartfelt expectation of what it means to live up to the name you’ve been given and the more rewarding discovery of what really matters.

Discussion Questions

  1. What did you think of the book?

  2. What did you think of the main characters, especially Maria and Rocky? Did they seem realistic? Were they likable?

  3. What role does identity play in the book? How is Maria’s experience shaped by the intersections of her gender, class, and racial identity? Are there ways in which she is privileged?

  4. The title of the book is They Could Have Named Her Anything and the books pays a lot of attention to the names that characters are given and choose for themselves. What is the significance of names in the book?

April 2021: Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake

Cover Art for the book Girl Made of Stars About the book [CW: sexual assault]

When Mara’s twin brother Owen is accused of rape by her friend Hannah, it turns Mara’s life upside down. She is forced to confront her own trauma while navigating the tension between her commitment to believing survivors and her bond with her brother. School Library Journal calls Girl Made of Stars "a compassionate and engaging novel about what it means to tell your truth, no matter how painful it might be.”


Discussion Questions

  1. Did you enjoy this book? Would you recommend it to others? Why or why not?

  2. Did Mara handle the complications of her relationships (with Charlie, Owen, Alex, etc.) well? Was she right to beat up Owen and/or Jaden? How would you have reacted in her overall situation?

  3. How do family dynamics work in this novel, particularly with Mara’s mother? How does her defense of Owen contradict what we know about her?

  4. The issue of sexual consent is also an important aspect of this novel. How well do you think it was explored? Could this novel be a catalyst for social change?

  5. At the end of the novel, Mara concludes that she is a girl made of flesh and bone rather than stars. How does this realization reflect her changed relationship with Owen? Do you think that he was persuaded into telling the truth by Mara’s final story?

March 2021: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Cover art for the book We Were Liars

Discussion Questions

  1. Did you enjoy this book? Would you recommend it to others? Why or why not?  

  2. Consider the moral questions raised by this novel. How are racism, land ownership, inheritance, materialism, greed, and manipulation handled by Lockhart? In your opinion, in what ways do these elements enrich the story? 

  3. Discuss the significance of the title, We Were Liars. In what ways does it accurately describe the events and relationships portrayed in the novel?  

  4. What did you think of the fairy tales that Cady tells? What role did they play in the story? How does the author’s use of Shakespeare’s King Lear and Brontë’s Wuthering Heights influence the story? 

  5. What conclusions do you think that the book makes about the power and consequences of resisting—or conforming to—social and familial expectations?  

  6. Do you trust Cady's narration? Is she lying...or hallucinating? (Does it matter?) 


November 2020: Mexican Gothic, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Cover art for the book Mexican GothicDiscussion Prompts

  1. How did you feel about the historical period and setting the book takes place in?

  2. How did the book evoke terror? What made it so powerful?

  3. What was the creepiest moment of Mexican Gothic for you?
    I am haunted by that poor lady at the very end. You know the one.

  4. Race and colonialism were significant players in the novel, both indirectly and
    more literally later on. All the residents at High House are white and from England, while Catalina and Noemí are mixed.

    • How does the author tie race into the fantasy elements?

    • How does race affect the way the story is understood?

    • How are indigenous people and their cultures considered?

  5. Gender also played a large role. Consider the female characters Noemí, Catalina, Florence, Ruth, and Marta Duval, among others.

    • How does the book benefit from Noemí's perspective?

    • How are the women used in the book?

    • What does the book say about the patriarchy?

  6. Gothic literature relies on emotion, in particular "the sublime," an indescribable feeling that "takes us beyond ourselves" (via Wikipedia).

    • If you've read gothic literature, how does "Mexican Gothic" compare?

    • What elements of the traditional gothic story are present, and which
      are changed?

    • Is "Mexican Gothic" a gothic novel?

  7. ​​​​​​​Would you read a sequel to this story? Would you prefer it feature Noemi and Francis, or would you prefer a story in the same world with new characters?

September 2020: Slay, by Brittney Morris

Cover art for the book Slay

Discussion Prompts

  1. How does SLAY build community among players? How do you see this reflected in the chapters written from other gamers' perspectives? What is your favorite instance of community building in the book?

  2. The debate around SLAY, both in the media and within Kiera's friendship, is centered around the question of whether it is exclusionary. What are your thoughts on this?

  3. Think about why Kiera created SLAY. Why do you think people feel comfortable demonstrating abusive behaviors in online games? How might game developers work to prevent or combat this behavior? What do you think can be done to protect vulnerable people?

  4. Kiera introduces readers to her two identities, a parallel which challenges her throughout the book as she tries to keep her worlds separate. How does this divide affect her relationships and responsibilities?

  5. The media suggest that SLAY and its creator are to blame for Jamal's death. What do you think? Can Kiera be held responsible in any way?

February 2020: The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

Discussion Questions

  1. What do you think of the book? Which part resonated with you the most?

  2. In the opening scene, Starr reflects, "there are just some places where it's not enough for me to be me. Either version of me."  

    • Explore the practice of code switching, and discuss how you might code switch in your own life. In what places have you felt this same tension?

    • In what ways is this tension particular to people from historically oppressed groups?

  3. When Starr loses her friend to a police shooting, she's surprised by her response, reflection, "I always said that if I saw it happen to somebody, I would have the loudest voice, making sure  the world knew what went down. Now I am that person, and I'm too afraid to speak."

    • How do you imagine you'd respond if you were an eye witness, like Starr?

    • Why do you think her own response surprised her, and why do you think did not respond the way she thought she would?

  4. At the police station, after Starr details the events leading up to the shooting, the detective shift her focus to Khalil's past.

    • Why do you think the detective did this?

    • Discuss how Khalil is portrayed in the media. How does Starr work to counteract this portrayal?

  5. How do you think Starr would define family? What about Seven, DeVante, Kenya, and Khalil?

Students discussing the Hate U Give The Hate U Give, Book Cover

October 2019: The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood

Discussion Questions

  1. What were your initial thoughts on this book?

  2. Let's talk about Luke and Offred.

    • Before the coup, did you understand Luke's reasoning that he would be able to help Offred in spite of the government restrictions?

    • In times of sudden conflict, do people generally try to rationalize rather than react swiftly?

    • Could Offred and Luke have done anything to stop what happened after the coup? As the U.S. government was collapsing, why didn't Luke and Offred do more to escape?

  3. Why is the Bible in Gilead under lock and key?

  4. The commander says "you can't cheat nature." How do characters find ways to follow their natural instincts?

  5. What do you think happens to Offred in the end?


 Students discussing the book The Handmaid's TaleCover art for the book The Handmaids Tale

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