This reading group guide for Next Year, For Sure includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Zoey Leigh Peterson. 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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After nine years together, Kathryn and Chris have a seemingly perfect relationship built on trust and respect. So when Chris confesses his crush on Emily, a new neighbor he sees at the laundromat, Kathryn encourages him to ask her out on a date. Next Year, For Sure
follows the tumultuous, revelatory, and often funny year in which Kathryn and Chris experiment with an open relationship and reconsider everything they thought they knew about love.Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. What were your initial impressions of Kathryn and Chris? How did your impressions change throughout the book? Why?
2. Chris describes his relationship with Kathryn as extraordinarily happy: “Who’s happier than us?” (page 79). But elsewhere he says that he and Kathryn have always been sad, and he worries that they are “trapped in this sadness together” (page 153). How do you understand these two statements? Can both be equally true?
3. Discuss Kathryn and Sharon’s friendship. How does it compare with the emerging relationship between Kathryn and Emily?
4. From the beginning, Sharon is adamantly opposed to Kathryn and Chris trying an open relationship. Why does Sharon feel so strongly about Chris and Kathryn’s arrangement? And why does she remain opposed, even when Kathryn reports that it is working?
5. Why do you think the chapters are told from alternating perspectives—Chris, Kathryn, Chris, Kathryn? What do you think we might learn in a chapter from Emily’s perspective? Or Sharon’s?
6. From the very first page, we learn that Chris’s crush on Emily isn’t particularly sexual. How would the story be different if Chris were more driven by sex? How important is sex in the book? What role does it play for the different characters?
7. Several times, Chris resolves to ignore his feelings for Emily, but each time Kathryn persuades him to act on them instead. Why do you think she pushes him in this way?
8. Both Chris and Kathryn experience moments of jealousy, but they also experience “the opposite of jealousy” (page 186). Chris experiences real joy watching Kathryn be excited about Moss, and says that witnessing it feels like “falling in love sideways” (page 186). Kathryn feels a “wave of adoration for Emily and cannot tell if it is Chris’s or her own” (page 133). What do you make of these moments?
9. Toward the end of the book, the months May through August are blank. Why? What other narrative techniques does the author use throughout the book? How do they help shape the story?
10. Discuss what Kathryn means when she says she wishes “she could break up with herself and leave Chris out of it” (page 217).
11. At the end of the novel, Kathryn and Chris are still close and seem to be finding their way to a new phase in their relationship. Kathryn and Sharon, on the other hand, are no longer friends. How would you explain these very different outcomes? What makes some relationships able to change and transform over time, while other relationships end with bitter finality?
12. Near the end of the book, there’s a flash-forward to Sharon’s life five years in the future (page 199). What do you think the other characters will be doing in five years? In ten years, or twenty years? Are they still part of each other’s lives? How do their lives and relationships look different or the same?
13. The author has said in interviews that “this novel is about polyamory the way Moby Dick
is about whales.” What do you think she means by that? What would you say the novel is about?Enhance Your Book Club
1. Think about some of your favorite literary love triangles. Reimagine one of those stories, replacing the love triangle with an open relationship, and discuss.
2. Take a look at one of the many nonfiction books about how to navigate polyamory successfully. (For example: More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory;
or Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships.
) How does the guidebook compare to what we see in the novel? What ideas and best practices do the characters in the novel get right? What mistakes do they make?
3. Characters in the novel give each other mix-tapes as a sign of affection, but pop songs often reinforce stereotypical ideas about love. What song would you put on a mix-tape for a character in this novel? If you’re part of a discussion group, you might create a playlist of your various songs together. You can also listen to a chapter-by-chapter playlist created by the author at http://www.largeheartedboy.com/blog/archive/2017/05/book_notes_zoey.htmlA Conversation with Zoey Leigh PetersonWhy did you want to write about polyamory?
Actually, I didn’t set out to write about polyamory. I set out to write about loneliness. And particularly the loneliness of adulthood, when it can get harder and harder to form new friendships that have the same depth and intimacy they used to have.
I was also thinking about how long-term relationships evolve and transform. I’ve been in relationships that have changed shape several times—relationships where we’d started out as friends, later we’d become romantic partners, later still we were friends again, and it all happened very amicably, without a rupture. But I’ve also been in relationships that imploded in the face of such change, and could never be repaired. I was wondering about this—why some relationships evolve gracefully, while others die cataclysmically.
These were the questions that inspired the novel. The polyamory was somewhat incidental. For me, polyamory is simply one possible way of being in a relationship.Are you poly?
I’ve been in all kinds of relationships—poly ones, monogamous ones, straight ones, queer ones, et cetera—and I’ve seen them all work. I don’t have my heart set on one particular model.
But like I said earlier, I really wanted to write about loneliness. And while I don’t want to imply that polyamory is a cure for loneliness, I will say that the times in my life when I’ve felt the least lonely were the times when my relationships were the most complex and unconventional—times when I was part of a big weird family with four or five committed, intersecting relationships. Sometimes we didn’t know what to call those relationships. There didn’t seem to be a word for us. I think novels are a good way to explore the things we don’t have words for.What kind of research did you do?
There are a lot of excellent resources on polyamory—books, podcasts, workshops—and a vibrant community of people who are thinking carefully about how to do it well. As a human, I’ve benefited enormously from these resources, but I didn’t explicitly draw on them while writing the book.
Part of the reason is that I didn’t consider what Chris and Kathryn were doing as polyamory, per se. (I’m not convinced Chris and Kathryn even know the word; I deliberately didn’t use it in the book.) The poly community has spent decades working out how to approach relationships in a way that is healthy and ethical and wise. They’ve developed frameworks and guidelines, manuals and best practices. Chris and Kathryn don’t know the first thing about that body of knowledge. I don’t see Chris and Kathryn as people who made a conscious decision to “try polyamory” as poly; I see them as two people who stumble into an open relationship while trying to find a new way of being together. And I respect that, too.
We sometimes talk like there are only one or two models of relationships to choose from, but there are an almost infinite number of ways to be in love. Every good relationship I’ve seen was a unique invention made up by the people involved.What did you learn from writing this book?
I found some language for things that I’d always felt but had never been able to articulate. For instance, Kathryn’s longing for some sort of commitment that is bigger than two people, for an arrangement where friendships are explicitly recognized the way that marriages are. I’ve often longed for something like that, too. I still don’t have a word that captures what I want, exactly, but now I have pages I can point to and say, “This thing that she is trying to articulate here, this thing she wants…”
Also, the exercise of writing a chapter titled “What Everybody Wants” and having to systematically articulate exactly what each person in a given relationship wants—that was educational. I recommend it.What surprised you most?
The thing that continues to surprise me is that some readers think this book is pushing
polyamory, while other readers think the book is anti
polyamory. I guess I sort of expected the former, but I never expected people would conclude that the moral of this book is that “polyamory doesn’t work.”
I’m certainly not going to tell anyone how to interpret the novel. But poly does work. Sometimes. Just like monogamy works, sometimes. The thing is, if you write a book about a monogamous person and that person is unhappy, no one thinks the moral is that monogamy doesn’t work.
I dislike the idea that a novel should even have
a moral. But if I had to come up with one, I’d point to what Kathryn says early in the book: “There are lots of ways to be in a relationship, Sharon, ways they don’t put on TV.”Is the book based on your real life? And which character is you?
There’s some of me in all the characters—Chris, Kathryn, Emily, Moss. Even poor Sharon. People often ask me to choose between Chris and Kathryn—which one I identify with, which one I like better, which one is secretly me. I don’t know. Sometimes Chris reminds me of me in my twenties, whereas Kathryn more reminds me of me in my thirties.
So, is the novel based on my real life? Well, twenty-year-old-me was never in a long-term relationship with thirty-year-old-me—so all that is definitely made up.Enough seriousness—tell us one fun fact about the book.
Okay, I said that the book isn’t based on my real life, but is my real life now copying the book?
In the final chapters, Kathryn fantasizes about her future, in which she adopts a series of retired greyhounds named Edith and Gretchen and Tough Guy. As soon as I finished writing the book, I went and adopted a retired greyhound. (I tried to name him Edith, but he wanted to be a Linus instead.) He is snoring beside me as I write this