Author Jacqueline Friedland visits HMPA book club

Ayesha Sen and Nia Huff

This Wednesday, author Jacqueline Friedland visited the Horace Mann Parents Association (HMPA) book club to discuss her novel “He Gets That From Me.” Each month, HMPA book club co-chairs Kiara Jones Austin P’30 and Lisa Gordon P’30 P’22 P’25 select a book to discuss with the group.

Austin and Gordon aim to choose books that are diverse in content and representation, Austin said. “We read some classics, authors from different countries and cultures, men and women. A lot of consideration goes into the books selected for our parents to engage in.” As a result, the books often address larger societal matters including race or sexuality, HMPA president Sally Zhang P’26 said.

January’s read, “He Gets That From Me, follows the journey of a gay male couple as they experience the joy of parenting in spite of the difficulties they face in a heteronormative society, Austin said. Ten years after their child is born, a genealogy project reveals an anomaly that threatens to implode the lives of everyone involved.

Austin appreciated the representation of non-traditional families in literature because the conversation did not exist 20 years ago, she said. In fact, surrogacy — the method through which the main couple has their child — did not become fully legal in the state of New York until 2021.

Gordon especially appreciated the unpleasant nature of some characters. “I did enjoy the unexpected actio

At the meeting, Friedland shared her experiences of becoming a published writer and discussed the book, which is her fourth novel, Gordon said.

Elisabeth Benjamin thought the discussion was thoughtful and lively and enjoyed the conversation about Friedland’s career switch, she said.

Austin found it inspiring to hear from a woman who tried out different things before finding her place, she said. “It was a moving conversation, especially at this time of year when [our children] are considering colleges,” she said. “For her to say the decision you make right now is not inherently the path you will stay on was really powerful.”

Gordon said the end of the book was particularly impactful. Although the protagonist is 10 years old in most of the book, Friedland chose to end the story when he was a young adult for his decisions and voice to resonate with an adult audience. “This led to a discussion about how authors sometimes utilize alternate endings or a change of events, mostly after a character has naturally progressed or changed along with the natural writing of the story,” Gordon said.

Benjamin said that Friedland’s visit was a testament to writers’ creativity. “The power of literature is so obvious as an author will have a kernel of an idea and spit out an extraordinary tale from that little tiny idea,” she said.

Gordon said that the book and Friedland’s talk promoted inclusivity. “The discussion brought to light conversations regarding adoption and reinforced the idea that blood families are not always the closest families,” Gordon said.

Friedland also talked about her publishing process, which includes “sensitivity reads,” Benjamin said. For this book, she sent her manuscript to a gay colleague to ensure that she accurately captured the relationship of a gay couple that was central to the plot.

The group’s inclusivity adds to the depth of the discussions, Benjamin said. “The conversations are usually really good because the people who participate are all extremely talented folks, and what strikes me most is how incredibly diverse the group is,” she said. “I enjoy all the different perspectives that people bring to the pieces we are reading.”

For Austin, the book club has always been a welcoming and open space where she could go to and meet parents who shared a similar passion for literature, she said. One of the unique aspects of the book club is that it is available to parents across the four divisions. Although Austin was a parent in the Nursery Division (ND) when she began to attend, the space allowed her to meet new parents and integrate into the wider community, she said. “The book club is a friend-raising entity, the best thing we get out of the experience is our connection to one another.”