The Between the Lines Book Group meets at the Endicott Branch the third Tuesday of every month at 6:30 PM, on the third Tuesday of every month between September and May.
Books may be picked up at the Endicott Branch no less than a month before each meeting.
Each section on this page details the book we will be discussing that month and gives possible discussion questions to guide your reading.
Please feel free to reach out to Lisa Desmond for any questions or concerns.
Twelve-year-old Bird Gardner lives a quiet existence with his loving but broken father, a former linguist who now shelves books in a university library. His mother Margaret, a Chinese American poet, left the family when he was nine years old without a trace. Bird knows to not ask too many questions, stand out too much, or stray too far. For a decade, his family's life has been governed by laws written to preserve “American culture” in the wake of years of economic instability and violence. To keep the peace and restore prosperity, the authorities are now allowed to relocate children of dissidents, especially those of Asian origin, and libraries have been forced to remove books seen as unpatriotic.
Bird has grown up disavowing his mother and her poems; he doesn’t know her work or what happened to her, and he knows he shouldn’t wonder. But when he receives a mysterious letter containing only a cryptic drawing, he is pulled into a quest to find her. His journey will take him back to the many folktales she poured into his head as a child, through the ranks of an underground network of librarians, into the lives of the children who have been taken, and finally to New York City, where a new act of defiance may be the beginning of much-needed change.
Our Missing Hearts is an old story made new, of the ways supposedly civilized communities can ignore the most searing injustice. It’s a story about the power—and limitations—of art to create change, the lessons and legacies we pass on to our children, and how any of us can survive a broken world with our hearts intact.
Possible Discussion Questions:
Questions by Heather Caliendo from Book Club Chat
1. What are your thoughts about the way the U.S. is presented in the novel and what similarities do you see to our version? Do you view the story as dystopian fiction?
2. Could something like the PACT act be passed here?
3. Why did Bird embark on this journey to find his mother? What answers did he hope to find?
4. Throughout the story, Bird remembers folktales that his mother used to tell him as a child. What was the significance of these folktales to this story as a whole?
5. After Bird’s mother leaves, his father ensures that he goes by Noah. But once he is reunited with his mother and she calls him Bird again, he starts to finally relax in his own skin. Let’s talk about how a name ties to our whole identity.
6. Once they’re reunited, Margaret recounts her journey to Bird. She paints a very different picture from what the media has portrayed her—she was not an activist by choice. What were your thoughts as you read Margaret’s backstory?
7. Why did Margaret’s poems struck a chord with the protest movement?
8. The government considers Margaret a threat and she has to leave the family immediately without a truly proper goodbye to Bird. Do you feel Margaret was left with no choice?
9. How did meeting with Marie’s parents change Margaret’s perspective on activism and her role in it?
10. Why did so many people turn a blind eye to the violence against the Asian community? Why was the Asian community targeted?
Mrs. Obama offers readers a series of fresh stories and insightful reflections on change, challenge, and power, including her belief that when we light up for others, we can illuminate the richness and potential of the world around us, discovering deeper truths and new pathways for progress. Drawing from her experiences as a mother, daughter, spouse, friend, and First Lady, she shares the habits and principles she has developed to successfully adapt to change and overcome various obstacles--the earned wisdom that helps her continue to "become." She details her most valuable practices, like "starting kind," "going high," and assembling a "kitchen table" of trusted friends and mentors. With trademark humor, candor, and compassion, she also explores issues connected to race, gender, and visibility, encouraging readers to work through fear, find strength in community, and live with boldness.
Possible Discussion Questions:
Questions by Ethan from Wrote a Book
1. Michelle Obama discusses the concept of “starting kind” in the book, where she emphasizes the importance of leading with kindness in our interactions with others. How do you interpret this concept, and how can you apply it in your own life, especially when facing challenges or conflicts?
2. In The Light We Carry, Michelle Obama shares stories about her experiences with self-doubt and navigating change. Can you relate to any of these stories? How do you handle feelings of self-doubt or uncertainty in your own life? What tools or strategies do you use to overcome them?
3. Mrs. Obama often emphasizes the significance of curiosity in building meaningful relationships, whether it’s friendships or romantic partnerships. Reflecting on her own experiences with her husband Barack, she realized that his sense of curiosity added a whole new light to her world. What do you think it was about Barack’s curiosity that stood out to Mrs. Obama more than other traits? Can you think of someone in your life whose sense of curiosity ignites something within you?
4. Can you think of a spouse, significant other, friend, or loved one who has brought brightness into your life? How have they done so? Have your perspectives on what makes a relationship fulfilling and supportive evolved over time and with experience?
5. Mrs. Obama writes about the importance of being prepared to work, to be humbled, and to embrace the in-between spaces in committed relationships. These spaces can sometimes oscillate between the beautiful and the horrible, and may span a single conversation or extend over years. What are some compromises you and your significant other have had to make in your relationship? How do you navigate the natural ebb and flow that comes with long-term relationships, whether they are romantic or platonic?
6. Let’s settle the age-old debate – where do you stand on the Great Toilet Paper Dispute of 1960? Are you on Team Over-the-Roll, like the Obamas, or Team Under-the-Roll, like the Robinsons during Mrs. Obama’s childhood? Defend your position! Have you ever had to compromise on this stance for the sake of your marriage or your relationship with a housemate? Share your experiences!
7. Mrs. Obama’s pearls of parental wisdom: Wake your kids up, parent the child you’ve got, and work to put yourself out of business. Which of these maxims resonates with you the most and why?
8. The power of home according to Mrs. Obama: Different meanings for different people. Reflect on your idea of home – whether it’s a person, a place, or a feeling. How can we build places of gladness for ourselves, others, and especially for children to always return to?
9. Mrs. Obama describes how gladness can be nourishing and a gift, as it can make us feel more steady on our feet and help us embody poise. Reflect on times in your life when you have experienced the gift of gladness. Who has given it to you, and who have you given it to? How did it feel to share gladness and receive it?
10. Mrs. Obama reveals the daily routine of her friend Ron, who starts his day by greeting himself affectionately in the bathroom mirror with a simple “Heeey, Buddy!” She acknowledges that for many people, including herself, the mirror can be a source of fear, particularly for women who are often held to higher standards in terms of grooming and style, requiring more elaborate, expensive, and time-consuming preparations before feeling comfortable heading to work or facing a new day. She emphasizes the power of starting kind, which involves redirecting any impulse to judge or self-denigrate, and instead beginning with a simple message of compassion and approval. Reflect on how you can give yourself a deliberately kind start in the morning, following Ron’s example.
11. The book touches upon issues of race, gender, and visibility, and Mrs. Obama encourages readers to work through fear and find strength in community. How do you think these issues impact our ability to navigate change and challenges in our lives? How can we build stronger communities that foster inclusivity and support in the face of adversity?
12. Mrs. Obama’s iconic words “When they go low, we go high” first echoed across the stage at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. After reading The Light We Carry, has your interpretation of this mantra evolved? How do you now understand the concept of “going high” as described by Mrs. Obama, which involves pausing, being thoughtful, and responding with both heart and head to convert abstract and upsetting feelings into actionable plans?
13. Mrs. Obama defines “going high” as more than just a motto; it’s hard work that requires dedication, resilience, and perseverance. She draws inspiration from the words of the late civil rights leader John Lewis, who said, “Freedom is not a state; it is an act.” Similarly, democracy is not a passive state, but an active act. What are some ways we can embody the spirit of “going high” to uphold and promote democracy in our lives and communities?