Have your book club members been replaced by crickets who fill empty silences? Has discussion gone stale? Sounds like your book club needs to shake things up. I led a cult classics–themed book club for a few years, and one thing I learned was that the best discussions are sparked by the most controversial books. Playing it “safe” and choosing predictable picks can turn even the most opinionated members off, risking declining participation or worse. Fortunately, there are plenty of options to rekindle the fire in your book club, starting with these 10 recent controversial books. Push it to the limit next time. Try picking one of these controversial books for book club members to dissect and discuss, with stories that ask engaging questions, complicate your ethics, and challenge your beliefs. Wine at the ready? Let’s go.
Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage
It’s unnatural not to love our children, right? Zoje Stage’s electric debut thriller Baby Teeth pushes that taboo to the edge. Having children despite enormous chronic health issues was a sacrifice Suzette was willing to make. Now, after seven years with her daughter, Hanna, a tricky, violent child, Suzette begins to doubt whether her resentment towards Hanna is all in her head, or if her daughter is evil and dangerous. Your book club get together will need extra wine to get through the confessions and controversy when you discuss Baby Teeth.
The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump by Michiko Kakutani
The first book from the Pulitzer Prize–winning former New York Times Book Review critic, The Death of Truth is a stark indictment on the current state of truth in society. Kakutani is uncompromising in describing the threat to facts and reality in Trump’s America and the world abroad. Book clubs will have much to debate over the limits of free speech, our responsibility to stand up to falsehoods, and whether facts are debatable.
Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis
Lifestyle guru Rachel Hollis’s voice obviously resonates with readers in her bestselling self-help book about transcending the lies you tell yourself to become who you were always meant to be. But for others, the tone is abrasive. Girl, Wash Your Face will spark discussion as members grapple with questions like: Do you need to be told to wash your face? Does anyone? Expect polarized viewpoints and several glasses of wine.
The Nerdy and the Dirty by B.T. Gottfred
Young Adult fans, this one is for you. B.T. Gottfred’s contemporary YA romance is a shocking, at times disgusting, and, if we’re being honest, relatable love story about two awkward teens who discover an electric attraction between them. Gottfred’s novel is definitely not sanitized—masturbation, sex, and uncouth thoughts are everywhere—but that’s kind of the point. Readers will likely be divided over Gottfred’s hyper-realism and whether it distracts from the romance or makes it all the more real.
The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur
Love it or hate it, you will be talking about Rupi Kaur’s second poetry collection. Kaur’s popular poetry made her an Instagram sensation and could be credited at least in part to the poetry renaissance we have right now. The Sun and Her Flowers would be a nice change of pace for prose-only book clubs and help members parse out how Kaur’s visceral, confessional style confronts their relationship to poetry.
The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani
A toxic relationship built on mutual dependency ties a young mother and her children’s nanny together. When the situation spirals out of control and into violence, who’s to blame? This powerful, disturbing thriller that asks provocative questions about the pressures women feel to work and to mother will stretch your book club members’ positions on culpability and responsibility.
The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing by Merve Emre
From ubiquitous not-so-scientific Buzzfeed quizzes to “Rate on a scale of 1 to 5” screenings on job applications, we’ve all encountered some version of personality testing before. But can your individual character traits, unique viewpoints, and idiosyncratic behaviors really be summed up in four letters? Should it be? The fascinating story behind the Myers-Briggs personality test and its remarkable impact is explored in Merve Emre’s The Personality Brokers, which will provoke book club discussion about how true these tests feel, whether these tests predict or restrict behavior, and the complicated ethics they imply.
Suicide Club by Rachel Heng
Lea Kirino won the genetic lottery as a “Lifer” who could live forever, as long as she follows the rules. And with her perfect job, perfect fiancé, and perfect New York experience, why wouldn’t she want to? But when Lea is throw into contact with her estranged father, his participation in the rogue “Suicide Club” that advocates for an individual’s right to decide their fate makes her think twice about her own life. This bold novel will have your book club debating whether it’d be worth it to live forever and whether destiny can—or should—be overcome by free will.
Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman
When honeymooning newlyweds discover a bag of cash on the beach, they struggle to agree on what to do next. Their decision has lasting repercussions for their marriage and their lives as the choice drives a wedge between their love and happiness. Catherine Steadman’s Something in the Water will have your book club debating what they would have done differently.
Waiting for Eden by Elliot Ackerman
This harrowing novel about Eden, a severely injured Iraq War veteran, and Mary, his wife, is narrated by a mutual friend and fellow soldier. Waiting for Eden addresses the controversial question of right to die and assisted suicide. Beginning with the opening—”I want you to understand Mary and what she did. But I don’t know if you will. You’ve got to wonder if in the end you’d make the same choice, circumstances being similar, or even the same, God help you.”—Waiting for Eden pulls you through as you seek to find out what Mary did and whether you’d do the same. Though each book club member will have a different reaction, discussion will be undeniably emotional and engaging. Have some tissues handy.