The Optimist's Guide to Letting Go

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About The Book

Three generations. Seven days. One big secret. The author of The Coincidence of Coconut Cake unfolds a mother-daughter story told by three women whose time to reckon with a life-altering secret is running out.

Gina Zoberski wants to make it through one day without her fastidious mother, Lorraine, cataloguing all her faults, and her sullen teenage daughter, May, snubbing her. Too bad there’s no chance of that. Her relentlessly sunny disposition annoys them both, no matter how hard she tries. Instead, Gina finds order and comfort in obsessive list-making and her work at Grilled G’s, the gourmet grilled cheese food truck built by her late husband.

But when Lorraine suffers a sudden stroke, Gina stumbles upon a family secret Lorraine's kept hidden for forty years. In the face of her mother’s failing health and her daughter’s rebellion, this optimist might find that piecing together the truth is the push she needs to let go...

Reading Group Guide

This readers group guide for The Optimist’s Guide to Letting Go includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

Three women grapple with a life-changing secret in this mother-daughter generational story.

Owner of gourmet food truck Grilled G’s and recent widow Gina Zoberski finds comfort cooking up deliciously inventive grilled cheeses for her customers as she struggles through each day, especially when challenged by her critical mother, Lorraine, and her moody daughter, May.

Lorraine expects her family to live up to her high expectations, making sure to appear perfect to the public eye. May is mourning her father and wants nothing more than to do so in her own way. Gina is the perpetual optimist, always aiming to please, but is finding that the brighter side of things is not always so bright.

When Lorraine suffers an unexpected stroke, Gina discovers a family secret that Lorraine has kept hidden for forty years. As her mother’s health fails and her daughter rebels, Gina might find that piecing together the truth may just be the push she needs to let go. . . .

Topics and Questions for Discussion

1. The Optimist’s Guide to Letting Go opens with a quote from Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent: “The more a daughter knows about the details of her mother’s life—without flinching or whining—the stronger the daughter.” Discuss the quote’s significance. How does it set the tone for the novel?

2. Gina describes her husband, Drew, as the rock of the family. After he died, Gina and May completely disconnected. “Without him, she and May tumbled through each day, flailing in the rushing waters, occasionally bumping into each other” (p.15). Why is Gina and May’s relationship suffering, rather than getting stronger, in the wake of their shared loss? Is either of them at fault for failing to console each other through their grief? How can their bond be mended?

3. How would you characterize Lorraine’s role in her daughters’ lives? Why is she such a source of irritation rather than encouragement, especially to Gina? What are Lorraine’s guiding principles in life? How would you react to Lorraine’s criticisms if you were Gina?

4. Lorraine justifies her decision to keep Joe a secret from her daughters. “Telling the girls wouldn’t change anything in their lives; it would only create an abyss where their perfect family once stood. They didn't need to know what they had lost when they had never even known it existed. You couldn’t miss someone you’d never known” (p. 65–66). What do you think? Should Lorraine have told the truth to Gina and Vicky sooner? How would their lives be different? Is it possible to miss someone you’ve never known?

5. Gina’s family often gives her a hard time for her positive attitude. Can being an optimist ever be a negative? How does Gina’s uplifting disposition give her strength? What does she need to let go of, as the book’s title suggests?

6. Lorraine and Floyd’s marriage transpired out of convenience and security rather than love and admiration. Describe how their union is complex. How do they each benefit from their partnership? Do you understand their reasons for being together? Can a marriage that was established as a business proposal be successful? What does being married mean to you?

7. Discuss the structure of the novel. How does the movement from past to present impact your understanding of Lorraine, Gina, and May? How important is it as a reader to learn of a character’s history? How does each woman’s past shape her present relationships?

8. Gina is frustrated by Vicky’s insinuations that she should start dating. “What all of these people didn’t understand is she couldn’t fast-forward her grief. It wasn’t another item on her checklist she could accomplish then cross out” (p.116). Do you think Vicky is being insensitive to Gina’s situation? How will Gina know when she’s ready to move on? Is there an expected time line for grief?

9. Roza is Lorraine’s closest and most treasured confidant. “Roza was a time capsule of all Lorraine’s best and worst moments, and she had always been there when Lorraine needed her” (p.127). Do you think Roza filled the void left by Joe? How is she a source of comfort for Lorraine? What does their relationship teach you about the endurance of female friendship?

10. What do you make of Vicky’s relationships with Gina and Lorraine? Describe her role in the family. Why do you think the author chose not to have any chapters told from Vicky’s perspective? Would you have liked to learn more about her marital issues, or be given more insight into her adolescence? How would that have changed the novel?

11. Many of the characters in the novel choose to conceal their pain, love, or even their identity. Floyd’s sexuality, Gina’s heartache, and Lorraine’s first marriage are all buried secrets. Why do you think these characters choose to disguise their truths? How are these secrets burdening themselves and their families?

12. There are many parallels in Lorraine and Gina’s lives. They both fell in love with men whom their parents disapproved of. And then they both lost those men and were left having to find the strength to move on for the sake of their children. Despite these similarities, Lorraine was never a source of comfort for Gina. Reflecting on this, Lorraine suggests that perhaps she was so hard on Gina because they were too alike. “You are most critical of the flaws in others that you have yourself” (p.207). Is this an excuse? Do you think Lorraine is a hypocrite? Is it too late to make up for lost time?

13. Discuss the notion of betrayal. How is Lorraine’s secret about Gina and Vicky’s father a betrayal of their trust? Does the truth alter their childhood memories? How does May feel betrayed by her mother’s emotional distance? Do you think the characters are cognizant of their betrayal to those closest to them? Why or why not?

14. How do Gina and May decide to celebrate their memories of Drew? What could Lorraine have learned from them? How do you keep the special memories of a loved one alive?

15. Describe the three women in this mother-daughter generational story. They each have succumbed to emotional and traumatic pain in their lives, impacting how they relate to one another. Were you drawn to one woman more than another? How are they different? Who do you sympathize with the most? What bonds them together? Have they offered any insight into your own relationships with your mother, sister, grandmother, etc.?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. There are so many delicious descriptions of food throughout the novel, from bacon brownies to pierogies to, of course, grilled cheeses. Consider hosting a potluck dinner inspired by the food mentioned in the novel for your next book club meeting. Each member can bring his or her favorite dish!

2. Gina is an obsessive list-maker. She finds them essential to organizing her thoughts. If you don’t already do so, try writing to-do lists either for work or for your personal life. Make sure to cross off each item on the list as you accomplish it. How do you feel once you complete a task? Do you find that to-do lists help your productivity, or are they a distraction?

3. When Gina learns the truth about what her mother had kept hidden, she writes down ten questions in her notebook that she’d like answered—“questions she hoped would help her sort out her muddled emotions” (p.164). This book is divided into ten sections by each of these questions. Now that you’ve read the book, answer these questions as Lorraine, and then as Gina. Next, ask your own parent(s) or grandparent(s) the same questions. What do you learn? Do you feel closer with them?

About The Author

Photograph by Kelly Johnsen

Amy E. Reichert, author of The Coincidence of Coconut Cake, Luck, Love & Lemon Pie, The Simplicity of Cider, and The Optimist's Guide to Letting Go, loves to write stories that end well with characters you’d invite to dinner. A wife, mom, amateur chef, Fix-It Mistress, and cider enthusiast, she earned her MA in English Literature and serves on her local library’s board of directors.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Gallery Books (June 2018)
  • Length: 352 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781501154942

Raves and Reviews

Praise for THE OPTIMIST'S GUIDE TO LETTING GO

"The Optimist’s Guide to Letting Go is poignant, tender, and simply wonderful. Amy Reichert has outdone herself. With characters that are as complicated as they are original and a voice that is warmhearted and wise, you will hug this book when you're done."

– Taylor Jenkins Reid, bestselling author of One True Loves

"Delightful and heartfelt, The Optimist's Guide to Letting Go is Reichert’s best book yet!" 

– Karma Brown, bestselling author of IN THIS MOMENT

"Written with Reichert's hallmark humor and heart, The Optimist’s Guide to Letting Go is a poignant, multi-generational tale of family ties and hidden pasts, of forgiveness, second chances, and the truths that set us free.  Lose yourself in this rich and rewarding read!"

– Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author of THE ORPHAN'S TALE

“Written with a keen and tender awareness of the devotion between women across generations, The Optimist’s Guide to Letting Go is a beautiful read. The characters are wonderfully imperfect, and their relationships are recognizably flawed, making their journey around and around—and finally back to—each other immeasurably satisfying. Bravo!”

 

– Christina Lauren, New York Times bestselling author of Love and Other Words

"Three generations of women cope with a grandmother's stroke and a big family secret. Readers will relate to the family's struggles and develop an appetite for grilled cheese, as well. A delicious read full of family and food."

– Kirkus Reviews

“A delightful treat—Amy's writing gets under the skin of family: how they drive you crazy, but you love them just the same. An absolute joy I am sure readers will take to their hearts.” 

– Veronica Henry, author of The Forever House

“With even pacing, the novel seamlessly moves between the present and the past as Lorraine, Gina, and May remember those they have lost, revealing secrets along the way. Readers will embrace the realistic characters, whose moments of anger, regret, guilt, and understanding delicately illustrate the process of letting go.”

– Booklist

"Bringing light to the subtle ways in which our lives intertwine, while giving hope for healing in the most unexpected places, The Optimist's Guide to Letting Go pushes us to see relationships on a deeper level. With charmingly developed characters who are thoughtfuly crafted, this story will cling to readers through the final pages." 

– RT Book Reviews

"Reichert (The Coincidence of Coconut Cake) has created wonderful true-to-life characters in a novel of secrets and regrets, loss and hope."

– Library Journal

Praise for THE SIMPLICITY OF CIDER

"Reichert captures the food, relationships, and unique settings of the Midwest at their best. I was absolutely charmed by The Simplicity of Cider."

– J. Ryan Stradal, New York Times bestselling author of Kitchens of the Great Midwest

"The Simplicity of Cider will quench your thirst for a smart, poignant tale of people who find their true selves, and in the process each other, in the most unexpected places. A sparkling tale of creating family where you need it, and learning to let go of the things that hold you back from your best life."

– Stacey Ballis, author of Wedding Girl and Recipe for Disaster

"The Simplicity of Cider is a novel as delicious as cider and as enchanting as magic--both of which are found in measured doses throughout the book. Amy Reichert has a way of writing about complicated relationships and seemingly impossible situations with a strong thread of hope that is both uplifting and substantive. This is a lovely book, meant to be savored."

– Karen White, New York Times bestselling author of The Guests on South Battery

"Brimming with hilarity, magic, and heartwarming unexpected relationships, The Simplicity of Cider is the ultimate ode to celebrating the dazzling splendor in small things. This will give you more fuzzy feelings than you can count.”

– Redbook

“A lot charming and a little bit magical, Reichert’s latest is warm and poignant and romantic… between the humor and the heart lies a subplot of family and setting yourself free — framed beautifully by a story that won’t let go.”

– RT Book Reviews (4 star review)

Praise for LUCK, LOVE & LEMON PIE

“As irresistible and delicious as an actual slice of lemon pie, Luck, Love & Lemon Pie has all of the sweet ingredients that make a book impossible to put down. From the fallible yet lovable characters to the smart writing and layered plot, we tore through the pages of this thought provoking story. Amy E. Reichert has a flair for writing heartwarming fiction that will give you sweet cravings!”

– Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke, authors of THE YEAR WE TURNED FORTY and THE STATUS OF ALL THINGS

Luck, Love & Lemon Pie is touching, clever, and a hell of a lot of fun. Amy E. Reichert somehow manages to not only tell a stirring story about modern marriage, but also transport you poolside in Vegas. Simply put, Luck, Love & Lemon Pie is a great bet.”

– Taylor Jenkins Reid, author of MAYBE IN ANOTHER LIFE and AFTER I DO

"Amy E. Reichert serves up another delicious serving of fresh wit and lots of fun in this charming tale of a woman determined to fix her marriage gone stale. This heartfelt novel is as funny as it is tender—in other words, the perfect summer read."

– Colleen Oakley, author of BEFORE I GO

"Laugh-out-loud, hold-on-to-your-panties women's fiction. The characters are game for anything when it comes to getting back what they think they have lost. Reichert is a talented author."

– RT Book Reviews, four-star review

Praise for THE COINCIDENCE OF COCONUT CAKE

"Deliciously entertaining! Amy E. Reichert's voice is warm and funny in this delightful ode to second chances and the healing power of a meal cooked with love."

– Meg Donohue, USA Today bestselling author of ALL THE SUMMER GIRLS and HOW TO EAT A CUPCAKE

"Amy E. Reichert whips up the perfect recipe for a deliciously fun read. Combine humor and romance with a dash of drama, then let it simmer. The sprinkle of Wisconsin pride is icing on an already irresistable cake. Warning: do not read this book hungry!"

– Elizabeth Eulberg, author of THE LONELY HEARTS CLUB and BETTER OFF FRIENDS

"Amy Reichert brings sweetness and substance to her delicious debut. Sign me up for second helpings!"

– Lisa Patton, bestselling author of WHISTLIN' DIXIE IN A NOR'EASTER

“…Reichert's quirky and endearing debut skillfully and slyly examines identity and community while its characters find love in surprising places. Clever, creative, and sweetly delicious.”

– Kirkus Reviews

"Well-developed secondary characters and detailed descriptions of the Milwaukee food scene will leave readers hungry for more. Fans of Stacey Ballis and Erica Bauermeister will find lots to love."

– Booklist

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