This reading group guide for Count on Me includes an introduction, discussion questions and ideas for enhancing your book club. 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.
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Friendships can bring us peace, fill the emotional shortcomings in our romantic relationships, and help us remember what lies deep inside every one of us. For more than twelve years, the international organization Las Comadres Para Las Americas™ has been bringing together thousands of Latinas to count on, lean on, help, and advise one another. Comadre is a powerful term. It encompasses the most important relationships that exist between women: best friends, confidants, coworkers, advisers, neighbors, godmothers to one’s children, and even midwives.
Edited by acclaimed author and editor Adriana V. López, this collection of stories features twelve prominent Latino authors who reveal how friendships have helped them to overcome difficult moments in their lives. Fabiola Santiago, Luis Alberto Urrea, Reyna Grande, and Teresa Rodríguez tell their stories of survival in the United States and in Latin America, where success would have been impossible without a friend’s support. Esmeralda Santiago, Lorraine López, Carolina De Robertis, Daisy Martínez, and Dr. Ana Nogales explore what it means to have a comadre help you through years of struggle and self-discovery. And authors Sofia Quintero, Stephanie Elizondo Griest, and Michelle Herrera Mulligan look at the powerful impact of the humor and humanity that their comadres brought to each one’s life, even in the darkest moments. Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Discuss the concept of the comadre, or co-mother. How does the term itself convey a relationship stronger and more complex than friendship? How does each of the essays in this collection shed light on the idea of the comadre? Do you have your own comadres?
2. In “Las Comais” Esmeralda Santiago discusses how the women of her Puerto Rican community raised each other’s children while the men worked away from the barrio all day. How did the men’s absence make the women’s bond stronger? How did Esmeralda’s mother’s comadres become linked to her own survival?
3. How is watching over a dead friend’s book (from “Every Day of Her Life”) similar to being an adoptive parent? How does the act of writing bring together Carolina and Leila, as well as so many of the other women in this collection? How does being a writer inform their friendship?
4. “I can’t help but view marriage as a loss. My loss,” writes Stephanie Elizondo Griest in “Road Sisters.” (p. 66) She also states: “Babies are worse than husbands.” (p. 67) Have you ever “lost” a friend in such a manner? Are there ways to keep a friendship even as she (or you) start a family?
5. In “Crocodiles and Plovers,” Lorraine L.pez discusses her relationship with an inspiring mentor. Have you ever had such a relationship? Can a mentor/mentee friendship ever be truly equal? How?
6. Fabiola Santiago writes of a childhood friend she left behind in “Letters from Cuba.” Do you have any childhood friends who are still a strong presence in your life? Do you have much in common with them in your adult life? Is there a special bond between two people who have grown up in similar environments?
7. In “Casa Amiga,” Teresa Rodr.guez memorializes a woman who stood up for women’s civil rights in a dangerous area of Mexico where machismo ruled. How did Esther Ch.vez Cano become a comadre both to the woman who wrote about her as well as to the women she helped to rescue? Even though she and Esther weren’t close in every sense of the word, Teresa still felt a close connection to her. How does the idea of comadre-ship in this story differ from that of friendship?
8. Sofia Quintero lays out many rules for friendship—from the serious to the humorous—in “The Miranda Manual.” What are some lessons about friendship that you have learned over the years? Share some of your own rules with your book group.
9. Many of the essays in this collection detail the hardships of emigration, how moving to the Unites States made the writers feel unmoored. In “My Teacher, My Friend,” Reyna Grande feels alone and oppressed by her abusive father until she meets her mentor, Diana. Are there ways in which the bonds of friendship are stronger than family? How does Reyna’s essay illustrate this concept?
10. Are there certain foods that remind you of a friend or loved one? How does the act of cooking bring the women in “Cooking Lessons” together? Is there an activity that you and your friends do together that brings you closer?
11. In “Anarchy Chicks,” Michelle Herrera Mulligan writes of a childhood friendship that remains a constant even as she grows up and her identity goes through a variety of changes. How does her appreciation for her culture change as she gets older? Do you find that as an adult you are more likely to value your heritage? Why or why not?
12. In “Heart to Heart Connection,” Ana Nogales poses the question, “Were the immigrant experiences of those from other Latin American countries that different from my own?” (p. 194) She came to the conclusion that yes, they were. Do you agree? How did class and religion factor into Ana’s childhood isolation, and how did nuances in Latin culture ultimately prove just as baffling? In what ways can Latinas of all backgrounds unite?
13. How does the inclusion of a man, Luis Alberto Urrea, change your view of what a comadre can be? Do you agree with Luis when he writes, “It is possible for men and women to be deep friends, I think. It is necessary.” (p. 209)? Have you had deep and meaningful friendships with members of the opposite sex? Can a man be an honorary comadre? Enhance Your Book Club
1. In her introduction to the collection, Nora de Hoyos Comstock mentions a young Latina, recently graduated from college, who had never read a book by a Latina author before. Have you? Who are your favorites? If you are not part of Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club, which selects its entire reading list at the beginning of each year, choose another Latina author for your next book club discussion.
2. Pretend that you have been asked to contribute to Count on Me and write a short essay or story of your own about a comadre. Share your story with your book group members.
3. Assign each member of your book group a recipe from “Cooking Lessons” to prepare for a group dinner. Or buy all the ingredients and gather together to cook dinner as a group.