Book club questions for Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam provides an in-depth look at this dystopian novel. There will be spoilers so for more context about the book, check out my spoiler-free review first.
This book!! OMG. I haven’t been freaked out by a novel in a long time. Although, I don’t tend to read a ton of dystopian books so maybe that’s why. But I’m glad I read this one. I just thought it was so interesting how the author Rumaan Alam was able to weave so many different themes—race and class, parenthood, survival, etc.—and present it in a concise and engaging way.
So let me talk about that ending. Spoiler time: it actually did not bother me that we never truly learned what the disaster was. I’m kind of surprised at myself that I didn’t get as caught up in that. Usually, I really like a closed ending but I actually think it worked for this. At one point, I thought, okay, it’s a war. And then, I wondered is it climate change? But after that, once teeth started falling out (how FREAKY was that?), I became clueless on what it could actually be. I’ve read a couple interviews with the author and right now, he’s not really revealing what he thinks happened. So part of me wonders if he ever came up with a conclusion or if he’s keeping it to himself and letting the readers decide on their own.
Amanda and Clay head out to a remote corner of Long Island expecting a vacation: a quiet reprieve from life in New York City, quality time with their teenage son and daughter, and a taste of the good life in the luxurious home they’ve rented for the week. But a late-night knock on the door breaks the spell. Ruth and G. H. are an older couple—it’s their house, and they’ve arrived in a panic. They bring the news that a sudden blackout has swept the city. But in this rural area—with the TV and internet now down, and no cell phone service—it’s hard to know what to believe.
Should Amanda and Clay trust this couple—and vice versa? What happened back in New York? Is the vacation home, isolated from civilization, a truly safe place for their families? And are they safe from one other?
Book Club Questions for Leave the World Behind
- The book starts off very domestic. We read about Amanda and Clay’s trip to the house in the country, going to the grocery, making dinner, having vacation sex, etc. Why do you think the author started off the book in this way? Do you think having the book start off simple really makes it more impactful when that’s all taken away later on?
- Everything changes when G.H. and Ruth arrive to the house. What were your initial thoughts as this scene unfolded?
- Right away, Amanda distrusts G.H. and Ruth—she even thinks they’re faking being the owners at one point. What did the introduction of G.H. and Ruth reveal about Amanda and Clay’s true nature?
- The characters are literally in the dark on what is happening to the city, and to the country. What would you have done if you were any of the characters? Would you have stayed in the house and waited or would you have ventured out to see what was happening?
- With the couples stuck at the house, there’s a focus on the bigger issue but it also reveals more about true personalities, parenting styles and such. Which, out of G.H., Ruth, Amanda and Clay, did you find the most interesting? How did their relationships evolve as the book went on?
- What did you think about Archie and Rose and their reactions to everything going on around them compared to the adults?
- When did the novel devolve from domestic fiction to dystopian fiction? What did you think about the scene with the first loud noise?
- The adults try to figure out what’s happening—war, a hurricane, plane crashes, etc. At the same time, the author gives little hints that the world is very much on fire—people dying, camps, never going back home again, etc. As you read the novel, what did you think was actually happening?
- We never really got the answer to what the disaster was. Did that bother you it was an open-ending? Why do you think the author made the choice not to detail the disaster?
- Some say that the ending with Rose finding the house with DVDs is hopeful in a way—that while the adults are panicking, she tries to find a solution. What are your thoughts about this?
- The author did not write this story with the 2020 pandemic in mind. What was it like for you to read this during our own pandemic? Did it make the novel more scary or was it oddly comforting in a way? Let’s chat about this.
- The novel will be adapted for a feature film starting Julia Roberts as Amanda and Denzel Washington as G.H. What do you hope to see in the film version? Do you think the disaster will be more defined in film?
Hope you enjoyed book club questions for Leave the World Behind! Here are some more recommendations along with links to book club questions.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
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.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better?
In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig’s enchanting new novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.