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Book Club Questions for Deacon King Kong by James McBride

Book Club Questions for Deacon King Kong by James McBride

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Book club questions for Deacon King Kong by James McBride covers all the different layers in this entertaining read. 

Oprah selected Deacon King Kong for her June 2020 book club pick. She said to Oprah Magazine in selecting the book, “I am hoping readers will find in it what I did: sorrow, joy, resilience, humanity, and an understanding that while we struggle with pain and trauma, we can find shelter in one another.”

This is a very unique story and takes a bit to get going but how it all ties together is quite impressive. I do think one of the takeaways is the importance of community and connections. 


In September 1969, a fumbling, cranky old church deacon known as Sportcoat shuffles into the courtyard of the Cause Houses housing project in south Brooklyn, pulls a .38 from his pocket, and in front of everybody shoots the project’s drug dealer at point-blank range.

The reasons for this desperate burst of violence and the consequences that spring from it lie at the heart of Deacon King Kong, James McBride’s funny, moving novel and his first since his National Book Award-winning The Good Lord Bird. In Deacon King Kong, McBride brings to vivid life the people affected by the shooting: the victim, the African-American and Latinx residents who witnessed it, the white neighbors, the local cops assigned to investigate, the members of the Five Ends Baptist Church where Sportcoat was deacon, the neighborhood’s Italian mobsters, and Sportcoat himself.

As the story deepens, it becomes clear that the lives of the characters–caught in the tumultuous swirl of 1960s New York–overlap in unexpected ways. When the truth does emerge, McBride shows us that not all secrets are meant to be hidden, that the best way to grow is to face change without fear, and that the seeds of love lie in hope and compassion.

Bringing to these pages both his masterly storytelling skills and his abiding faith in humanity, James McBride has written a novel every bit as involving as The Good Lord Bird and as emotionally honest as The Color of Water. Told with insight and wit, Deacon King Kong demonstrates that love and faith live in all of us.

Book Club Questions for Deacon King Kong

  • The book starts off with a focus on Sportcoat and how he shot the drug dealer Deems Clemens and no one really knows why. It also discusses how his wife Hettie died. Let’s talk about our thoughts on this opening. 
  • Hettie comes to Sportcoat throughout the novel. Do you think she was just a figment of his imagination when he was drunk or do you think she really showed up as a spirit? Or do you think the author left it open-ended to interpretation? Let’s discuss!
  • In the beginning, there’s an emphasis on bad luck following Sportcoat wherever he goes.  Do you think this is true or was it all self-inflicted? 
  • Sportcoat seems to not remember shooting Deems. But he’ll talk about how Deems shouldn’t have given up his baseball career to sell drugs. Why do you think he shot Deems?
  • When Deems is in the hospital toward the end, Sportcoat appears to remember shooting him and he goes into a rage. What is behind his rage toward Deems?
  • There’s a ton of characters and layers to this story beyond Sportcoat. What did you think about all the different characters?
  • Were you engaged with the story from the get go or was it more of a slow burn read?
  • What did you think about Elefante’s storyline and about the “soap,” which was actually the oldest three-dimensional object in the world?
  • Let’s talk about the cheese. So Elefante’s father was originally the one to supply it; who do you think supplied it after he passed?
  • What did you think about the romance between Sister Gee and Potts?
  • Let’s talk about the revelations from Sister Paul and her friendship with Old Guido Elefante. Do you think Sportcoat went right to Elefante about the “soap?”
  • Let’s talk about the title and Sportcoat’s reaction when he found out his nickname is “Deacon King Kong.”
  • After Deems and Elefante have their final confrontation, it’s revealed at the end that he went back to baseball. Let’s talk about Sportcoat’s influence on this. 
  • What do you think actually happened to the Christmas box?
  • Sportcoat is often viewed as a dead man but he gets saved again and again. Do you think there was a bigger message there?
  • What did you think about the ending overall? Did it feel like closure or did you want more from it?
  • McBride said this novel is a book about church. Let’s discuss this. 
  • Why do you think the author decided to set the book in 1969? 

More recommendations 

Hope you enjoyed book club questions for Deacon King Kong! Here are some more recommendations along with links to book club questions.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

By now you have probably seen The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett everywhere! You definitely need to read this one.

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?

Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.

As with her New York Times-bestselling debut The Mothers, Brit Bennett offers an engrossing page-turner about family and relationships that is immersive and provocative, compassionate and wise.

You can order the book on Amazon here. Check out my book club questions here

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré is another must-read! 

Adunni is a fourteen-year-old Nigerian girl who knows what she wants: an education. This, her mother has told her, is the only way to get a “louding voice”—the ability to speak for herself and decide her own future. But instead, Adunni’s father sells her to be the third wife of a local man who is eager for her to bear him a son and heir.

When Adunni runs away to the city, hoping to make a better life, she finds that the only other option before her is servitude to a wealthy family. As a yielding daughter, a subservient wife, and a powerless slave, Adunni is told, by words and deeds, that she is nothing.

But while misfortunes might muffle her voice for a time, they cannot mute it. And when she realizes that she must stand up not only for herself, but for other girls, for the ones who came before her and were lost, and for the next girls, who will inevitably follow; she finds the resolve to speak, however she can—in a whisper, in song, in broken English—until she is heard.

You can order the book on Amazon here. Check out my book club questions here