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Book club questions for The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson will help jump start your discussion about this novel that focuses on motherhood and race. There will be spoilers so for more context about the story, check out my spoiler-free review first.
I really enjoyed The Kindest Lie! I was so engaged in this story. There’s a quite a bit to unravel: from the impact of Ruth giving up her son, the friendship with Midnight and eventually letting go of her past.
My spoiler thoughts: First, I loved the ending. What a powerful journey of growth for Ruth. While you know she would love to have some type of relationship with her son Corey, she knew what was best for him is to let him be with his adopted parents. Maybe one day they can have a relationship but he’s so young and it’s quite a confusing time for him—especially in light of everything that happened.
It’s 2008, and the inauguration of President Barack Obama ushers in a new kind of hope. In Chicago, Ruth Tuttle, an Ivy-League educated Black engineer, is married to a kind and successful man. He’s eager to start a family, but Ruth is uncertain. She has never gotten over the baby she gave birth to—and was forced to leave behind—when she was a teenager. She had promised her family she’d never look back, but Ruth knows that to move forward, she must make peace with the past.
Returning home, Ruth discovers the Indiana factory town of her youth is plagued by unemployment, racism, and despair. As she begins digging into the past, she unexpectedly befriends Midnight, a young white boy who is also adrift and looking for connection. Just as Ruth is about to uncover a burning secret her family desperately wants to keep hidden, a traumatic incident strains the town’s already searing racial tensions, sending Ruth and Midnight on a collision course that could upend both their lives.
Powerful and revealing, The Kindest Lie captures the heartbreaking divide between Black and white communities and offers both an unflinching view of motherhood in contemporary America and the never-ending quest to achieve the American Dream.
The Kindest Lie Book Club Questions
- The book is set during 2008. Why do you think the author chose this era? What has changed since then and what has also remained the same?
- Why did Ruth wait so long to tell her husband Xavier about having a baby when she was a teenager? What do you make of Xavier’s reaction? Was it warranted or do you think he overreacted?
- Why was it important for Ruth to return to her hometown of Ganton, Indiana, to confront her past? Why has she stayed away for so long?
- Let’s discuss how the recession impacted Ganton and its people.
- How would have Ruth’s life been different if Mama hadn’t arranged for her son to be adopted? Do you see why Mama made the decision or do you think she acted in haste?
- What does the title, The Kindest Lie, mean in relation to the story and Ruth’s journey?
- We read the story from Ruth and Midnight’s perspectives. Why was it important for us to also read Midnight’s viewpoints?
- The two develop an unlikely friendship—Midnight sees Ruth as almost a surrogate mother and Ruth feels somewhat motherly to Midnight. What was your impression of their friendship?
- There is a divide between the black and white communities of the small town. This is also apparent in the dynamic between Midnight’s father and Ruth’s brother Eli. Let’s discuss the racial injustices and class inequalities. How does a town like Ganton began to heal?
- Ruth is determined to find out what happened to her son. She even entertains the idea of being able to gain custody of him. What would you have done if you were in Ruth’s position?
- It turns out that Midnight is close friends with her son, Corey. And through a chaotic and sad night, she meets Corey but not in the way she would have liked. Let’s talk about Corey’s reaction to the revelation that Ruth is his mother.
- In the end, Ruth decides that what’s best for Corey is to let him stay with his adopted parents. Do you agree with this decision? Will Ruth and Corey ever have a relationship down the road?
- What did you think about the ending and her reunion with Xavier? What did Ruth learn about herself in this journey?
Hope you enjoyed book club questions for The Kindest Lie! Here are some more recommendations along with links to book club questions.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
If you’ve been on the site before, you know how much I love The Vanishing Half! So I’m here to say again that you have 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.
The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi
The Henna Artist is another story about the protagonist confronting their past.
Escaping from an abusive marriage, seventeen-year-old Lakshmi makes her way alone to the vibrant 1950s pink city of Jaipur. There she becomes the most highly requested henna artist—and confidante—to the wealthy women of the upper class. But trusted with the secrets of the wealthy, she can never reveal her own…
Known for her original designs and sage advice, Lakshmi must tread carefully to avoid the jealous gossips who could ruin her reputation and her livelihood. As she pursues her dream of an independent life, she is startled one day when she is confronted by her husband, who has tracked her down these many years later with a high-spirited young girl in tow—a sister Lakshmi never knew she had. Suddenly the caution that she has carefully cultivated as protection is threatened. Still she perseveres, applying her talents and lifting up those that surround her as she does.