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This reading group guide forNever Say Neverincludes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Victoria Christopher Murray. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
After a devastating fire kills Miriam’s firefighter husband, Chauncey, and leaves the surrounding community in shock, Miriam is not sure how she will ever be able to move on with her life. Left with three young sons, Miriam relies on her two best friends—Emily and Michellelee—and Emily’s husband, Jamal, for support. But as she grieves, Miriam begins to develop a strong connection to Jamal. When the two spend more time together mourning the loss of Chauncey, they find themselves in the midst of a passionate affair born from their mutual sadness. Never Say Never tells the story of love, friendship, and betrayal and ultimately asks, Can real love find a way to forgive?
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Never Say Never begins in Miriam’s voice, framing the story that follows as an explanation for her affair with Jamal. She asks the reader on page
2: “Would you or wouldn’t you?” Answer Miriam’s question with your group members, weighing both Miriam and Emily’s sides.
2. Revisit the moment when Miriam must tell her sons that their father is dead, beginning on page 22. What role does Jamal play in this scene?
3. On page 43 Emily says: “I had to save Miriam from as much pain as I could. I had to make sure that she would get through, and know that every day, in every way, Jamal and I would be there for her.” Discuss this quote, and try to decide whom you see as the victim in this story—Miriam or Emily?
4. Discuss the role of race in the novel. What is Miriam’s initial reaction to Emily’s interest in Jamal? What makes Miriam change her mind about the couple? Look back to pages 54–55.
5. “I didn’t know why I felt a bit annoyed when he mentioned Emily. I mean, she was the one who was my friend. It was because of her that Jamal was even here with me so much” (page 107). Do you think that Miriam was out of line in wanting to spend so much time with Jamal? At one moment did she cross the line from grieving widow to adulteress?
6. How would you characterize Jamal? Do you like him? Can you defend his action in any sense? How so?
7. How does the fire stand as a metaphor for all the problems present in the novel? Consider the way fire moves quickly, is hot and, destroys everything in its path. If you had to name one character in the novel who is as similar to the fire, who would it be? Why?
8. At the end of the novel Pastor Ford hints to Emily that she could see the affair coming, that circumstances were ripe for Jamal to look for love and comfort outside of his marriage. Think back to the moment that Jamal, Emily, and Miriam were supposed to go out to lunch. If Emily had not had to go to the hospital to be with LaTonya, do you think the affair would have continued? Is it fair to blame Emily in part for the actions of Jamal and Miriam? Why or why not?
9. Many of the characters believe that if Miriam and Jamal had slept together only once, it would have been forgivable; repeated action was the real betrayal. Discuss with your group members. Can you come to a consensus on the ethics of this implication?
10. What role does faith play in the novel? Do you think that Jamal and Emily could have saved their marriage without Pastor Ford and faith?
11. In many ways, Michellelee is caught in the middle of the fight between her two best friends. She is the one who first discovered that Jamal and Miriam were sleeping together, and she is the one who forces reconciliation in the diner. She says to Miriam: “I don’t know how we’re going to do it, but we’ll find a way to be all right. We have to” (page 287). Do you think Michellelee is the voice of reason in the novel? If you had been Michellelee, would you have told Emily about your suspicions? Do you think Michellelee made the right choice in staying out of the fight?
12. Is forgiveness for those you love—even if it is not deserved—a theme of the novel? If not, what would you name as the theme of the novel? Why?
13. Discuss the ending of Never Say Never. Do you think than Emily and Jamal are going to make it as a couple? Why or why not?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Throughout Never Say Never, Emily refers to her favorite movie to watch with Jamal: Love Story. Have a movie night with your reading group and rent this classic 1970 film. Discuss the ways in which the film mirrors Emily and Jamal’s relationship. Why do you think the couple loved this movie so much?
2. After a tragedy, some people react in ways that are often bizarre and shocking, while other people manage stress and grief more traditionally, such as turning to faith and organized religion, or spending more time with a loved one. Have a “share” night in which each of your group members shares the ways in which they deal with grief in their own lives. Do you reach out to others or keep to yourself? Do you express your emotions through writing, exercise, or art, or do you prefer to sleep through the pain? Decide which character you resemble most in the way you handle grief and stress. Are you like Miriam and Jamal, who need comfort; or more like Emily, who needed to bury herself in her job?
3. Many of Victoria Christopher Murray’s books are entertaining and instructive, making them the perfect choice for a book club selection. Have your book club read Destiny’s Divas; The Deal, The Dance, and the Devil; or Too Little, Too Late. Afterward, consider how these books are similar to Never Say Never. What common themes can be found woven in all of Victoria Christopher Murray’s novels?
A Conversation with Victoria Christopher Murray
You have received countless awards for your novels. Many reviews praise you; in particular, the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, called your “vividness of faith . . . inspirational.” What is your goal when writing?
I feel blessed that many see my writing as inspirational even though that’s not my initial intent when I write. I know that as a writer, I’m an entertainer, and that’s what I set out to do first. But I always tell people that I am a Christian and no matter what I do, my faith goes with me. S I’m always glad when my faith “shows up” in my writing. If that can inspire someone, that’s even better.
Who is your favorite character in Never Say Never and why? Do you relate to one of the women more than the others?
This book turned out to be one of my favorite books of all time because I haven’t written too many non–African American characters. So writing Emily was a wonderful experience for me. I wanted to stay as true to her character as I could and I had a lot of help with that from my editor. Emily is probably my favorite, but only by a little—because I find all of these characters just so interesting. I find Emily and Jamal’s love amazing, and that was fun to write because I can remember years ago when I was . . . “challenged” . . . by interracial relationships. But then Miriam was wonderful to write because she was the victim . . . at first. And even I don’t know when that changed. So . . . I know I didn’t really answer the question. I loved them all.
Do you hope to break any stereotypes with this novel?
I’m not sure that I wanted to break stereotypes, but I did want to challenge us as women. I know many of my friends (and me!) for many years had issues when we saw black men with white women. (I’m just being honest!) And so in this book, Emily is white, but she is the wife. As readers we usually cheer for the wife (except for in Scandal!) I wanted to see if my readers would still cheer for Emily, or if the color of her skin made a difference. I cannot wait to get on the road and find out!
Why did you decide to tell this story from both Miriam and Emily’s points of view? In what ways does presenting both sides of the story change the course of the novel?
Telling both sides of the story is a no-brainer in this case. In this story, two sides had to be told. The story would have been incomplete with only Miriam or Emily’s voice.
At the end of Never Say Never you mention this real-life phenomenon that occurred after 9/11 where many firefighters were leaving their wives for their best friends’ widows. Can you talk more about these events, what surprising discoveries you may have made in your research, and why you felt called to write about this phenomenon?
I work out a lot of my issues through my writing. LOL! Seriously, when I read about something or hear about something, I wonder about it and then write about it so I can discover, What would I do? Everything I learned in the research of the fire departments’ “dirty little secret” you read in the novel. The greatest thing I learned, however, was that before I wrote this book, I looked down on those husbands and widows who destroyed the wife’s life. But after writing this book, all I can say is . . . never say never!
Do you agree that forgiveness, even when it is not deserved, is the theme of this novel? Why or why not?
First of all, I always think forgiveness is deserved. Because forgiveness is not about the other person. Forgiveness is for you—so the anguish won’t grow on your heart. So, you deserve to have peace and that’s why forgiveness is always deserved. Now, is it the theme of this novel? Hmmm . . . not sure about that. Before I started writing this novel, I had no idea where it was going to go. I was glad that Emily forgave Jamal . . . and Miriam. I was also glad that Emily realized she would never have the same relationship with Miriam. And Miriam realized that, too. Because you can forgive, but it’s just a little more difficult to forget. . . .
As a writer, who are your influences? Where do you go to get inspired?
I’m inspired by the fact that I write full-time for a living, and I’ve developed wonderful relationships with food and shelter. I love eating and sleeping in a home, so I write because this is my job. I just happen to have a job that I love, that’s my passion. I think I’m most influenced by pop culture, things that are going on in the world. I read a lot of books, watch a lot of movies; spend a lot of time studying people in airports, in parks, at the gym—wondering, What’s their story? I can turn a man and a woman kissing at Starbucks into a four-hundred-page novel!
Do you think that Emily and Jamal’s marriage will survive and that Miriam will learn to live without the two loves of her life? Can we rest assured that everyone in the novel lives as happily ever after as can be expected?
I’m not so sure I believe in happily ever after. If these were real people (and they’re not, LOL!) I would hope that they would find happiness. Of course life is a road that is covered with speed bumps, but I think they will all find their way to where they’re supposed to be.
Did writing this novel teach you any lessons? What lesson do you hope readers will take away from this story?
The greatest lesson ever . . . “never say never” is no longer just a cliché for me. It’s real!
What is your next project? Can we expect to hear anymore about Emily, Michellelee, and Miriam in future novels?
I think, I hope, I pray that this is the end for Emily, Michellelee and Miriam. My next project does bring back characters that many are familiar with. I’m working on a sequel to The Ex Files called Forever an Ex. I was inspired to do this because The Ex Files has been optioned to become a movie and the producer was saying that they love those characters so much that if there was more to their story, they may be able to even do a series. So I’m just giving them what they want! :-)
Victoria Christopher Murray is the author of more than twenty novels including: The Ex Files, Lady Jasmine, The Deal, the Dance, and the Devil, and Stand Your Ground which was named a Library Journal Best Book of the Year. Winner of the African American Literary Award for Fiction and Author of the Year (Female), Murray is also a two-time NAACP Image Award Nominee for Outstanding Fiction. She splits her time between Los Angeles and Washington, DC. Visit her website at VictoriaChristopherMurray.com.