The #1 New York Times bestselling authors of The Nanny Diaries return with “a convincing portrait of a damaged young woman whose head is turned by the attentions of a dashing and powerful political figure.…An utterly absorbing page-turner” (Booklist).
I was twenty-two years old only three weeks out of college. I thought my whole life was beginning...then he kissed me.
Jamie McAlister has resigned herself to the fact that in this job market, her painfully expensive degree might only get her a position at Starbucks, when she suddenly lands a prestigious internship at the White House. Although she doesn’t hit it off with the other interns—who come from so much money that ten weeks without a paycheck doesn’t faze them—she is eager to work hard and make the best of the opportunity while it lasts.
An unexpected encounter late one evening with the charismatic President Gregory Rutland seems like just a fleeting flirtation, but when he orchestrates clandestine meetings and late-night phone calls, their relationship quickly escalates. Jamie knows what she is doing is wrong: he’s married, he has kids, he’s the President. Yet each time she tries to extricate herself, Greg pulls her back in.
With the conflicted desires of the most powerful man in the world driving her to her breaking point, Jamie can’t help but divulge intimate details to those closest to her. But she must have confided in the wrong person, because she soon finds herself, and everyone she cares about, facing calculated public destruction at the hands of Greg’s political enemies, and—perhaps no matter how much he cares about her—at the hands of Greg himself.
This reading group guide forThe First Affairincludes 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.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Early on, Brooke tries to give Jamie some advice about how to conduct herself professionally, saying, “Being charming….doesn’t inspire confidence.” Do you agree? Do you think that the same statement applies to men as it does for women?
2. Is Jamie a victim? What responsibility does she bear?
3. In what ways does Jamie take after her mother? Do you think that the scandal brings her closer to Erica and to her father? Consider how the dynamics and alliances within Jamie’s family evolve as the narrative progresses.
4. As you were reading, who did you suspect divulged Jamie’s secret?
5. Discuss the connection that Jamie and Greg shared. How mutual was it? Do you think it ever evolved out of lust to love?
6. To what extent did you feel that Jamie’s experience with Mike shaped her perception of how romantic relationships are conducted?
7. What do you think the novel is saying about the relationship between power and sex?
8. Discuss the gifts that Jamie and Greg exchange. How do these items take on a larger significance for each character? What are they able to convey that other words or actions cannot?
9. Although she is referenced throughout the novel, we never meet Susan, the First Lady. Did you think of her while you were reading? Discuss why or why not.
10. Consider Jean, the President’s secretary. Did you see her as an enabler, or was she simply following orders?
11. Did you agree with Jamie’s decision to not reveal that Greg was having a panic attack the night that they first kissed? Did this affect your ultimate view of her character?
12. Did the epilogue leave you feeling differently about Jamie and the President than you otherwise would have? Does knowing their future ultimately affect how you view their affair?
Enhance Your Book Club
In the epilogue, an older Jamie reflects, “It’s so silly, the things you think will matter at twenty-two. And so earth-shattering, the things you think won’t” (p. 236). Consider yourself at twenty-two. Can you think of an example of each?
Consider reading Mimi Alford’s memoir, Once Upon a Secret: My Affair with President John F. Kennedy and Its Aftermath, as a group. Despite the different eras in which Mimi and Jamie’s relationships transpire, are there elements of their experiences that feel similar? To what extent do they feel different?
The number of political affairs revealed in recent years is staggering, but none has topped the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Why do you think this particular story still holds so much fascination in the national consciousness?
Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus are the New York Times bestselling authors of The Nanny Diaries, Citizen Girl, Nanny Returns, and the young adult novels, The Real Real and Over You. They are the cofounders of TheFinishedThought.com, a book coaching firm, and work together in New York City. For more information visit EmmaAndNicola.com.
“Just as they humanized a pop princess in their last outing, here they offer up a convincing portrait of a damaged young woman whose head is turned by the attentions of a dashing and powerful political figure. This compassionate examination of a young woman led astray is an utterly absorbing page-turner.”
“A dishy, sometimes somber, scandalous tale of what happens when you fall in love with the president of the United States.”