"My mother," Joy Shapiro Krushelevansky writes in her diary late one night, "is the most embarrassing person to have ever been born." It's been almost thirteen years since we've last seen Cannie Shapiro, the heroine of Good in Bed, whose journey toward happily-ever-after, and peace with her fractured family and plus-size body, made millions of women the world over laugh, cry, and see themselves on the page.
The last decade of Cannie's life has brought some surprises. Her life story, in fictional form, became an unexpected best-seller, and Cannie has since choosen to retreat from fame's fallout, writing science fiction under a pen name. Her daughter, Joy, has descended into the throes of moody adolescence, just in time for her bat mitzvah. Her best friend, Samantha, is looking for love in all the wrong places (specifically, an online dating site called AJew4U.com). Her husband, Peter, has decided that he'd like to have a baby, and the family's first choice for a surrogate is none other than Cannie's flamboyant kid sister. Just when things can't get any worse -- or weirder -- Cannie's long-lost (and largely unlamented) father shows up at her doorstep, and Joy swipes her mother's credit card and heads West in pursuit of the grandfather she's only seen once.
Funny and tender, with memorable characters and Weiner's trademark whip-smart dialogue and sharp observations about modern life, Certain Girls is a story about family (biological and chosen), love, loss, and the enduring bonds between mothers and daughters, husbands and wives.
Questions and Topics for Discussion 1. In the opening of the novel, Cannie thankfully observes how her daughter, Joy, is so different from herself. Joy, Cannie thinks, will have a better adolescence than her mother did. And yet it is their differences that cause such conflict and grief in the Krushelevansky household. In what ways are Cannie and Joy different? In what ways are they similar? How much of these differences are specific to Cannie and Joy and how much are common to all mother-daughter pairs? 2. Cannie loves her daughter so deeply and so enjoys being a mother that it is somewhat surprising to see how negatively she reacts to Peter's request that they have a child together. Why do you think she reacts this way? 3. On page 68, Joy seems enraged by Cannie's repetition of a familiar story about Joy's childhood. But Cannie can't figure out what has upset her daughter so. Identify moments in the novel where Joy is upset with something Cannie says or does, and Cannie doesn't understand why. Do you think Joy is being unfair, or is it Cannie who is overreacting? 4. Cannie tries to steer Joy away from the fashion magazines her aunt Elle devours because she thinks they're a "bad influence." What does Joy think? Do you agree or disagree with Cannie, and why? How does the novel provide evidence to support one opinion over the other? 5. Joy is constantly smoothing her hair over her ears to hide her hearing aids, or taking them out altogether. What is she really trying to cover up? Is she ultimately successful? Why or why not? 6. The author uses both Cannie's and Joy's point of view in order to emphasize the disconnect between the worlds of adult women and teenage girls. How else does this generation gap manifest in the novel? Is it really just that Cannie is "clueless"? Are Shari and Elle really that dissimilar from Amber and her friends? What does this novel say about growing up and about the different "types" of women in the world? 7. Cannie struggles with two absent fathers -- her own, with whom she hasn't had a real relationship in decades, and her ex-boyfriend Bruce, who not only abandons her when he discovers that she is pregnant, but who isn't always the most attentive or responsible parent now that he's back in Joy's life. And then there's Peter, who isn't anyone's biological father but plays a father's role nonetheless. Compare and contrast Bruce Guberman, Lawrence Shapiro, and Peter Krushelevansky and their relationships to their families. 8. Describe how various children in this novel view their parents -- particularly their mothers. How do you feel about these characters? Do you find the perspective of the children very different from that of the adults? Do you sympathize more with one "side" or another? Why or why not? 9. Joy notes on page 196 that her father's new wife, Emily, is so tiny and timid that Joy can't imagine her doing anything mean to anyone. But appearances often belie the truth. How do the appearances of the characters in this novel contradict who they are or what they are going through? Cite specific examples. 10. Even though Cannie would be fine with Joy going to her cousin Tyler's bar mitzvah, Joy decides to attend on the sly. What does Joy hope will happen at the party? What does she learn about herself and about her family? 11. Why do you think Cannie struggles so with the idea of surrogacy? What issues is she struggling with? How do you feel about the idea of pregnancy as a business arrangement -- or "babysitting," as some of the surrogates claim? Do you think Cannie is right that these women are asking far too little for what they are giving up? Why or why not? 12. On page 236, the author relays two news stories. One is about a sorority that dumps twenty-three girls from its roster, all of whom were either overweight, unattractive, or minorities. The other is about a 325-pound girl who commits suicide after being teased by classmates about her weight; the girl's mother is subsequently charged with neglect. What statement do you think the author is making about America's obsession with weight? Do you think these two news stories speak to the same issue, or is there a difference between them? Explain your opinion. 13. As Joy and her classmates approach their bar and bat mitzvah dates, they struggle to shed their childhood and be perceived as adults by greater society, especially their peers and families. Identify the various elements of so-called adulthood that these children try on. What is it that finally shows Joy what it means to be a grown-up? Enhance Your Book Club Experience 1. For the Jewish families in this novel, achieving bar or bat mitzvah is a major coming-of-age moment. Do a little research into the history of this religious and social ceremony and compare it to similar rituals in other religious or cultural traditions. You can start at your local synagogue, church, or interfaith center. You can also search online, starting with www.religioustolerance.org/wicpuber.htm. 2. You can learn more about Jennifer Weiner, the author, by visiting her website: www.jenniferweiner.com. Spend a little time reading from her body of work and see if you can spot similar character types, plot threads, or sentiments throughout. You can also make your next book club meeting a movie night by renting In Her Shoes, a film adapted from Weiner's novel of the same title. 3. Mothers and daughters have struggled to bridge the generation gap throughout recorded history. Think of an incident during your teenage years when you and your mother seemed to be living on completely different planets. In retrospect, can you understand her perspective a little better? Ask everyone in your book club to spend some time sharing their stories -- you may be surprised by the similarities you find!
Jennifer Weiner is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of sixteen books, including Good in Bed, In Her Shoes, and her memoir, Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing. A graduate of Princeton University and contributor to the New York Times Opinion section, Jennifer lives with her family in Philadelphia. Visit her online at JenniferWeiner.com.
Zoe Kazan's film and television credits include Revolutionary Road, August, In the Valley of Elah, The Savages, Fracture, and Medium. On Broadway she has been seen in Come Back, Little Sheba, and Off-Broadway in Things We Want, 100 Saints You Should Know, and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.