‘Other People’s Pets’ Discussion and Book Group Guide
The next One Book, One Hadassah national book club pick is Other People’s Pets (Celadon Books) by R.L. Maizes. One of Library Journal’s best debut novels of summer/fall 2020, Other People’s Pets looks at family, choice and obligation through the lens of its unique protagonist, La La Fine, a Jewish would-be veterinarian, animal empath and accomplished burglar. Join Hadassah Magazine’s Lisa Hostein on October 22 at 7:00 pm EDT for a live online interview with Maizes about her new novel, the bonds between parents and children, pets in Jewish tradition and much more. Register here for the event.
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 Other People’s Pets, either before or after the interview.
To facilitate those discussions, we are happy to present the following Discussion Guide. Please distribute it to your book groups.
- Other People’s Pets introduces us to a fascinating yet flawed group of characters: La La, Zev, Clem, Nat, Elissa and others. Do you relate to these characters? If so, is it despite or because of their flaws? Are there any characters whose limitations make them completely unsympathetic?
- We witness La La navigate a number of relationships. Which of those relationships do you think most impact the way she sees herself and the world around her? Who has the most influence on her life?
- Descriptions of pets and their owners appear throughout the book. What do these pets say about the people who own them? Explore how the animals, from their species to their names, reveal facets of their owner’s personality and history.
- Nearly 60 percent of U.S. households own pets, according to the American Veterinary Association. While there are no surveys of Jewish pet ownership, anecdotal evidence indicates that many Jews are pet owners. What are some Jewish attitudes toward animals. Does Jewish tradition say anything about owning or caring for an animal? Are there any stories about animal owners in Jewish texts?
- Jewish traditions are featured only a few times in the pages of Other People’s Pets—for example, La La’s abbreviated bat mitzvah ceremony and mention of Hanukkah presents. Nevertheless, author R.L. Maizes threads Jewish themes, such as repentance, forgiveness and the value of tradition, through the entire book. Discuss some of these themes as well as other Jewish values you identify in the novel.
- Zev calls on God for help periodically, but would you consider him a religious man? Why or why not? Is faith important to the protagonists?
- La La contemplates what it means to observe the biblical commandment, “Honor thy father and mother.” What does La La owe Zev, or Elissa? Are there any limits to filial obligations?
- Is Zev a good parent? Why, or why not? Do you think he views himself as a good parent? What does the book say about what we teach our children? What, if anything, do parents owe their kids?
- Both La La and Zev rationalize their burglaries. Do you agree with their reasoning? Is breaking the law ever justified?
- La La is adept at healing animals yet has difficulty addressing her own psychological wounds and abandonment issues; Zev is adept at deciphering locks and mechanisms but is lost when it comes to his own trauma and hurt. Think about how each has become mired in his or her own pain. How do they eventually heal? How does the book address healing and second chances? Do you think Clem should give La La a second chance?