This reading group guide for Grown Ups 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 bookIntroduction Fleabag meets Conversations with Friends in this brutally honest, observant, original novel about a woman going through a breakup . . . but really having more of a breakdown.
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Jenny McLaine’s life is falling apart. Her friendships are flagging. Her body has failed her. She’s just lost her column at The Foof
because she isn’t the fierce voice new feminism needs. Her ex has gotten together with another woman. And worst of all: Jenny’s mother is about to move in. Having left home at eighteen to remake herself as a self-sufficient millennial, Jenny is now in her thirties and nothing is as she thought it would be. Least of all adulthood.
Told in live-wire prose, texts, emails, script dialogue, and social media messages, Grown Ups
is a neurotic dramedy of twenty-first-century manners for the digital age. It reckons with what it means to exist in a woman’s body: to sing and dance and work and mother and sparkle and equalize and not complain and be beautiful and love your imperfections and stay strong and show your vulnerability and bake and box . . .
But, despite our impossible expectations of women, Emma Jane Unsworth never lets Jenny off the hook. Jenny’s life is falling apart at her own hands and whether or not she has help from her mother or her friends, Jenny is the only one who will be able to pick up the pieces and learn how to, more or less, grow up. Or will she?Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. When we first meet Jenny she is crafting an Instagram post about her croissant, and texts Kelly for advice on her caption, which has gone through many iterations. What was your first impression of Jenny? Have you ever texted a friend for feedback on a post before uploading to a social platform? On p. 14 Jenny thinks, “I used to do things for their own sake, but now grammability is a defining factor.” Discuss the ways in which modern life has been enriched or degraded by social media.
2. Two scenes—one at the beginning of the novel (p. 32) and one at the end (p. 319)—are told in script dialogue. How are these scenes similar? How are they different? What about Jenny is similar and/or different in each scene? Why do you think the author chose to write each of these scenes in scripted dialogue? What effect does that choice have on the characters in each scene, and on our perception of them?
3. Throughout the book, Jenny writes drafted emails that she never sends. They are to everyone, and ultimately, to no one at all. What is the effect for Jenny in writing these? How does writing these notes help and/or hinder her as a character? As a friend? As a daughter? Why, on p. 281, does she finally begin to send them? Discuss her development from the first drafted email (p. 20, “Subject: That Croissant”) to her first sent item (p. 281, no subject), to her final drafted email (p. 334, “Dear Jenny”).
4. We learn that Jenny’and Art’s relationship began as a series of flirty emails. Early on, Jenny tells us, “He didn’t reply for a few minutes. He had gone off me. It was a despicable thing to write. And me, supposedly a professional writer! What must he think of me? Oh God oh God. What if he thought I had some kind of bestial fetish? It was too much. I didn’t know what to do. I was panicking, panicking. It strikes me now how rapidly I changed. From cautious and in control to anxious wreck. How? Why?” (pg. 69). Do you have answers to her questions of how and why? What does this scene and exchange tell you about Jenny? How do you think these patterns affected their relationship down the line?
5. There are two “Therapy Session” sections of the book. How do they differ in terms of dialogue and tone? What is the purpose of each? What is Jenny struggling with in each? Is it productive for her, in either case? What do you believe is
productive for her mental health throughout the course of the book, if not therapy?
6. Jenny describes her relationship with Kelly as, “if you had to ask me who knew me best, who loved
me best, who I
loved best, well, I do know what the answer would be. We might have drifted apart a bit of late, but we have the kind of friendship that can weather emotional distance. It’s very easy-come, easy-go. Like an open marriage” (p. 12). Do you agree with Jenny’s assessment? Why or why not? How does her friendship with Kelly change over the course of the novel? Do you believe Kelly is who she loves best? Who best loves her?
7. Carmen and Jenny’s unconventional mother-daughter relationship unfolds slowly over the course of the novel. We learn about Carmen’s trip over Christmas (“The worst thing she ever did was leave me to go on holiday to the Bahamas one Christmas. Worst Christmas of my life. I was sixteen. I vowed I’d never let her hurt me again, and I haven’t” (p. 55–56), and of Jenny’s fake suicide attempt in response. How has that moment informed their relationship? How does it impact the way they live with each ther? Do you believe they love each other? Has Carmen hurt Jenny since? Has Jenny hurt Carmen in turn? What does their relationship tell us about motherhood? Of daughterhood? Of friendships between mothers and daughters?
8. Early on, Jenny describes Art’s meeting of her mother by saying, “Art. My Mother. I thought I’d spend a night passing the metaphorical salt. But no, my mother and Art were off. . . . A part of me thought—still thinks, age gap notwithstanding—they’d make a better couple” (p. 89–90). Building off of Question 7, how does Carmen’s relationship with Art affect Jenny? How does Carmen’s relationship with Art affect Carmen? Does Art serve the same purpose for each of them? Why or why not?
9. The friendship between Jenny and Nicolette is very different from other friendships described in the book. “The night we met, Nicolette instantly started following me on everything, even Pinterest. She didn’t slide into my DMs; she galloped. Talk about chutzpah. ‘Reply All’ should really be an adjective, and Nicolette is very Reply All” (p. 40). They connect digitally first, and emotionally second. Have you ever become friends with someone digitally before really knowing them as a person? How does this affect their relationship as the novel progresses? How does Jenny think of Nicolette, and how do you think Nicolette thinks of Jenny? How is the friendship valuable or destructive? Discuss.
10. Jenny hides her miscarriage from everyone; even Art does not experience the physicality of that moment with Jenny in the hospital. How do you think this experience informs Jenny’s online persona and behavior? If we think of this experience as a lens, how do you think it affects her relationship with Carmen? With Kelly? With Nicolette? With herself? How does telling the truth, eventually, affect her? How does it affect everyone around her when they learn about it?
11. Suzy Brambles—both as the Instagram handle and as the woman, Suzanne—is a fixture throughout the novel. “Suzy Brambles. Oh, Suzy Brambles, with your hostile bob and black Citroën DS and kickboxing lessons and almond eyes and lips like you’ve been sucking on a frozen zeppelin. What’s not to like? And I like. I like and like and like” (p. 14). Why is Jenny so eager for her approval? What does Suzy represent? How is Suzy different or similar to Jenny’s imaginations when we meet her in real life? How are Suzy and Jenny similar? How are they different? Discuss the ways in which social media distorts our perceptions of one another—especially women.
12. Would you ever live with your mother again? How do you think it would look different or similar to the reality that Carmen and Jenny face as adult roommates?
13. Jenny and Art attempt to be friends, even after seven years living together and a miscarriage. Is having Art in her life helpful for Jenny, or a hindrance? Have you ever stayed friends with a long-term ex? In what ways do you think this decision is a good or bad idea for them both? Do you think they will remain friends after the story concludes? Why or why not?Enhance Your Book Club
1. Jenny loved to throw parties, and collected colorful vintage teacups to serve hot cocktails in. Plan a party and make a version of Carmen’s “hot rum punch,” Linda the bartender’s “Bramble,” along with your favorite cozy (or cool!) cocktails.
2. When Carmen first moves in with Jenny, she sets up shop as a psychic-medium and begins to contact the neighbors’ lost love ones (including Benjamin’s tortoise, Toby!). Get out a Ouija board, and attempt to contact any spirits that might be lurking in your book club. You never know who (or what!) might turn up!
3. Go phone free! For the day-of book club, or for the days surrounding, totally unplug from social media. How does it make you feel? Do you miss it, or do you relish the freedom that it provides? Do you feel like you’re missing out on important announcements and news? Discuss among your friends, and don’t forget: everybody’s relationship with social media is different! Don’t be afraid to set boundaries where necessary.