Jennifer Weiner’s ‘Big Summer,’ a Discussion Guide for Book Groups
A new national reading initiative, One Book, One Hadassah, in partnership with Hadassah Magazine, kicks off on June 10 at 7:30 pm EDT with a live online interview with best-selling author Jennifer Weiner about her new hit novel, Big Summer. Local book groups are a vital part of Hadassah for many members. If your chapter doesn’t already have a book group, now’s the time to start one! We encourage groups to have their own discussions about Big Summer either before or after the interview.
To facilitate those discussions, we are happy to present the following Discussion Guide. Please distribute them to your book groups. And here’s to happy summer reading!
- Friendships between women are a significant focus in Big Summer, and Daphne’s high school friends Drue and Darshi are major influences on her life. The two also embody certain stereotypes in their contrasting relationship with Daphne: the popular mean girl who takes advantage of Daphne and the loyal friend who stays with her. What is Weiner trying to say about viewing women’s friendships as clichés?
- Daphne and Drue have always had a complicated, manipulative relationship. In the end, why do you think Daphne attended Drue’s wedding? Do you think you would have made the same decision in her position?
- The impact of parents and grandparents on their children and grandchildren is an important theme of Big Summer and elicits several questions. How has her image of her mother affected Daphne’s self-confidence and assertiveness? Compare and contrast the relationship Daphne has with her Nana versus her connection to her bubbe. Do those relationships bring to mind any of your own child-grandparent interactions?
- Weiner also explores the father-daughter dynamic in Big Summer. What are your thoughts about Daphne and Drue’s relationship with their fathers? How have their attempts to live up to parental expectations shaped their lives?
- Another major theme in Big Summer is nature vs. nurture. Does being born into a pedigreed family automatically guarantee a certain personality, or can we be influenced by the behavior of those around us? How do Mr. Cavanaugh’s children from his extramarital affairs exemplify this? Can people change?
- Daphne is a proud plus-sized woman. Even so, she experiences moments of doubt that manifest in the taunting echoes of fat jokes she hears in her head (what she calls “my traitorous mind”). How does this inform Daphne’s answer to the recurring question, “How can I be brave?” What do you think of the contrasting ways Daphne’s parents and grandmother respond to her weight? And how much do you think issues of body image have changed for girls and young women today versus decades ago?
- Luscious descriptions of food—rich, buttery banana bread after a life-changing night out and baklava dripping with honey shared with her father—are used throughout Big Summer to signal connection, affection, even change. Finding meaning in food and meals is also a backbone of Jewish culture. How are Weiner’s uses of food similar or different from the symbolic meanings and food rituals that surround Shabbat and holidays?
- Social media has changed Daphne’s life. It’s not only a source of income but also where she has found a community of women who make her feel seen. At the same time, she acknowledges, “‘Even if things don’t get better, you can always make them look good on the Internet.” Discuss whether Instagram, and social media in general, are positive or negative forces in the book. How has social media affected you, positively and negatively? Did your experience during the pandemic change your perception about social media, given that we were able to maintain contact with family as well as Jewish and spiritual connections through platforms like Facebook and Instagram (along with Zoom)?
- Many characters in this novel are living with big secrets: Nick has changed his name to escape his mother’s legacy; Leela Thakoon has also taken on a new identity; and Drue faked her entire wedding for media attention. Is there a pattern to their motivations? Are some of the secrets more justifiable than others?
- The issue of forgiveness lies at the heart of Big Summer. Even Darshi, who was most skeptical of Drue reconnecting with Daphne, ultimately says, “‘No matter how bad Drue was, everyone deserves justice.” Do you agree? Are there other characters in the novel whose ultimate transformation supports your argument? Do the concepts of forgiveness and acceptance as shown by Daphne or Darshi resonate with Jewish concepts of justice and forgiveness?