This reading group guide for Hello, Sunshine includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Laura Dave. 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.Introduction
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Sunshine Mackenzie is a culinary star with millions of fans, a line of #1 bestselling cookbooks, and a devoted husband happy to support her every endeavor.
And then she gets hacked.
When Sunshine’s secrets are revealed, her fall from grace is catastrophic. She loses her husband, her YouTube show, her fans, and her dream apartment. She’s forced to return to the childhood home—and the estranged sister—she’s tried hard to forget. But what Sunshine does in the ashes of her own destruction may just save her life.Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. In chapter 1, Sunshine confides in the reader that she keeps score on the ways Danny’s beauty compared to hers. In what ways are we all tempted to “keep score” of the goings on around us?
2. Sunshine tells the reader that they need to know two things, the second being that she’s a “bad
person.” Why do you think she feels that way? Do you think Sunshine is a bad person, or a person who’s behaved badly? Did your opinion change as you continued reading?
3. Ryan prefers the term “the story” over the words “lie” or “truth.” How do you think the human impulse toward storytelling allows us to soften our version of events?
4. In chapter 4, Sunshine confesses that sometimes not performing for Danny feels “like the hardest performance of all.” Why do you think authenticity, or the gaze of a loving observer, sometimes feels harder than artifice?
5. Sunshine posits in chapter 6 that the one thing women don’t want to forgive is another adulterous woman. Do you agree or disagree with that statement? Do you think female adulterers suffer more judgment than male adulterers?
6. Sunshine describes Montauk as a “show that didn’t look like one, which was a show all in itself.” When you watch TV, which worlds seem the most authentic to you? Think about the Food Network or daytime talk shows—“reality” TV—and divulge which ones tap into your expectations of authenticity.
7. Chapter 20 opens with Sunshine suggesting that readers may expect this to be a story about a woman realizing that her childhood home is where she always belonged. Were you expecting the narrative to turn out that way? Were you expecting to be called out on that assumption by the narrator? What did you think of that challenge to your own narrative expectations?
8. Eventually, Sunshine realizes that she had already chosen her dream over her marriage. Have you ever looked back at a moment and realized something about your own motivations that you hadn’t at the time? Could you relate more to Sunshine in the present or past??
9. Sunshine and Rain have a fraught relationship; why do you think the author chose to make them contentious instead of using a “loving long-lost sister” trope?
10. Sunshine realizes on page  that her curated photos with Danny might have sent the message to him that “the way it actually was hadn’t been enough.” Has there ever been a time when you’ve sent misleading messages to friends or family, using social media or some other means?
11. Sunshine is tempted—even prepared—to lie to Chef Z about what happened with Amber and the peaches, but she doesn’t. Do you agree with her sentiment that when you’re out of practice, lying can be “almost as hard as telling the truth?”
12. Ethan brings a lot of clarity to Sunshine’s life, especially his thoughts on the word “curate.” Were you rooting for them to connect romantically? Or were you hoping Danny would forgive Sunshine and welcome her home?
13. Sunshine comes to realize that she and her father—and likely her sister—all had their rules about living that allowed them to hide from their insecurities. In what other ways do people try to run or hide from the fear that they’re not good enough? Do you think everyone fears the same inadequacies?
14. Where you pleased with the novel’s resolution? Did it align with your expectations or hopes for Sunshine when you started reading?Tips to Enhance Your Book Club
1. Sunshine’s worst day opens with her hearing her favorite song on the radio: “Moonlight Mile” by the Rolling Stones. Listen to “Moonlight Mile” and then share your own favorite songs, the ones that make you feel the most alive and yourself.
2. There are plenty of recipes to choose from while planning your book club, but the famous Tomato Pie sounds like the simplest and best. Try hosting a tomato pie competition, in which a couple of members of your book club try their hand at a recipe.
3. In chapter 9, Sunshine says she prefers bourbon with just a little ice to the mint julep she and Ryan dubbed “the dreamers drink.” Serve both and discuss which you each prefer.
4. Sunshine has a major turning point with Chef Z when she’s able to be honest that the fennel doesn’t taste good. Fennel is a very distinct vegetable—try some and discuss whether it’s to your individual tastes or not.
5. If you have social media, take turns explaining the curation of one of your posts. Did you pose it? How did you caption it? What message were you trying to send? How did it align with your real, lived experience?A Conversation with Laura DaveWhen Ryan and Sunshine first meet, he tells her that “what people think is all that matters.” Is there any way in which you agree with him? Or do you think Ryan’s a villain of sorts?
Ryan is a producer and, in terms of his job, he isn’t entirely wrong. He’s in the business of selling a person’s image and he has been quite integral in Sunny’s success because he was able to put forth a compelling image of who she was. On page , you write “. . . that was the key to lying, wasn’t it? Believing it yourself?” Do you think that’s true?
I’m amazed by people who lie easily—even when the people around them know they are lying. Do they believe their lies? To a degree they must. Or, perhaps, they’ve also just gotten to a place where they don’t care about the difference between lying and the truth—they just care about getting what they need out of a given situation. One page , Ryan opines that everyone is a fraud, and certainly everyone with a public profile. Do you think that’s true? How does society encourage these frauds? Do you have a favorite fraud?
In today’s world, telling the truth isn’t rewarded the way it should be. The story is rewarded. With social media, you are always selling a story about who you are. There is a cost to these small lies, to the need to present yourself in a certain light in order to stay in the public eye. Maybe the cost has always been there, though it feels heightened because of the pervasiveness of broadcasting your life in real time.Do you think pretending is different from lying? Or are they really the same concept? If they differ, how so?
That’s really the question at the center of the novel. It is a fine line many people walk in order to live a public life, but it’s a tricky line. You write lovingly about the seaside town of Montauk on Long Island. What about it spoke to you strongly enough to place Sunshine’s origin story there?
I love towns on the end of the world, especially beach towns. You can’t be anonymous in the same way, and you can’t pretend in the same way, which felt like a perfect backdrop to tell the story of someone like Sunny, who is running from herself.Sammy has her own priorities that often compete with the priorities of the adults in charge of her. Was there a real-life inspiration for Sammy? If not, what inspired you to come up with such a fully realized young person?
Thank you—happy you felt that way about her. In writing about Sammy, I had a clear idea of someone that Sunny was trying to save. I think the nice turn there for Sunny, and hopefully for the readers, is Sunny and Sammy end up saving each other. During Sunshine’s big fight with Rain, she can’t stop herself from saying something she knows crosses the line. Why do you think that moment is so tempting to her? How was it to write that scene, to allow your characters to follow their worst impulses?
It was a tough scene because it was a turning point for them. Siblings love each other and often hurt each other because they know each other so well. In some ways, Sunshine and Rain needed that moment to remember they were siblings. To say the things they’ve been holding back. They needed that fight to find the other side of it.What do you think the perfect meal is? Is it achievable, or always out of reach, like Ryan and the producers want the audience to think? What constitutes the perfect meal to you?
A farm-fresh meal, cooked for family and friends—everyone enjoying a little wine, a few laughs—is pretty wonderful. I love to serve the strawberry sofrito pizza, which Chef Z makes in the novel. It’s based on a great pizza from a restaurant in Napa Valley. You’ll want to have friends over to share it, or you’ll end up gobbling down the entire thing yourself. Which, of course, is it’s own form of wonderful.Sunshine realizes she’s mistaken about running away from your former selves. Do you think it’s even possible to leave a former self behind? Or do you think people carry those identities along with them?
I think it is very common to want to reinvent yourself, to push aside the versions of yourself you wish had made different decisions. Though we are who we are—and staying familiar with the different people you have been is always the way to move forward, to avoid the same mistakes. To become the happiest version of yourself.Hello, Sunshine is your fifth novel. How was writing it distinct from writing the others? Did you find it posed its own unique challenges? What did you learn from writing this book?
Sunshine Mackenzie is what made it different. She is tough and pretty hard to take if you’re looking at her foibles on paper. I knew that going in, though it was a different thing to actually put Sunshine in the spotlight! Still, I worked to make her relatable. After all, no one is all good or bad. And while in so many ways, she is my opposite, finding compassion for her was a great and fun challenge. What are you working on next?
I’m writing my new novel, which is a lot of fun. Without spilling too many of the beans, I will say it’s about someone that reconnects with a crush from when they were young in a surprising way.