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April 17, 2008

National Library Week: Discussing a Debut Novel

Posted by carol
In celebration of National Library Week (April 13-19), we've invited librarians to share their insights about book clubs. In this post, Kaite Mediatore Stover, head of Reader Services at the Kansas City Public Library in Kansas City, Missouri, and Booklist's "She Reads" columnist, recommends a title that is sure to inspire a lively book club discussion --- and might even lead to rediscovering some of literature's classic heroines.

Anyone interested in messing with the heads of their book group members should suggest The Heroines by Eileen Favorite.

This fanciful debut novel is full of literary humor poked liberally at the dramatic, tragic, soap-operatic heroines of the classics.

Budding teenager Penny Entwhistle is helping her mother, Anne-Marie, operate a home-based bed-and-breakfast business in a small Illinois town in 1974. The guests are typical tourists, but every once in a while a special guest stumbles out of the woods or the rain and onto the Entwhistle doorstep. It is a heroine from classic literature seeking temporary respite from her tumultuous story.

Penny's mother dutifully administers warmth and comfort, but no advice, to the heroines. For the most part, Penny doesn't mind the demanding, whiny heroines, until the arrival of the most troublesome heroine of all: Deirdre of the Sorrows.

Deirdre is proving to be quite a handful. She is monopolizing all of Anne-Marie's time and attention and has taken up residence in Penny's bedroom. In fury, Penny runs to the forbidden woods behind her home and comes face to face with a Hero --- or is he a Villain --- determined to steal Deirdre back to their story.

Penny's report of King Conor's presence in the woods behind the bed-and-breakfast meets with a horrified reaction from her mother and well-meaning protection in the form of a psychiatric ward for hysterical and wayward girls. Now Penny must rely on her own heroic qualities to escape the hospital and summon her own Hero to her rescue.

Book groups can have a lot of fun with this title. Bring in copies of Madame Bovary, Gone with the Wind, Franny and Zooey, The Scarlet Letter and Wuthering Heights for members to peruse when the heroines make their appearance. Or offer a quick literary quiz to members about the demise of all the visiting heroines. Consider discussing the heroic qualities of Penny, Anne-Marie and Gretta, in comparison to the escaped heroines. Don't forget to ask what happens when well meaning individuals attempt to meddle in the pre-determined fates of others.

---Kaite Mediatore Stover