Jenna Bush Hager has been recommending great reads since 2019. The Read With Jenna book list is chock full of a diverse reads…and I mean that in the broadest sense. This Today Show book club list has books by authors of color with characters of color. There are strong female voices and a range of themes from family drama, mysteries, tragedy, historical perspectives and more.
She started the with Read with Jenna book club over at the Today Show as an expansion of her author interview series. She’s got some cred what with her English Lit major and a librarian for a Mom. Her enthusiasm for books is infectious we love that she’s such a book nerd.
Jenna knows how to recommend books that tap the zeitgeist and her book list is a great resource for book club pics, summer reads and for breaking a reading slump.
But where to start? Don’t worry, we’ll help you with that. We’ve complied a full compendium of the Read with Jenna book list. And we’re also providing the Goodreads ratings to help you find some excellent crowd-sourced reads.
Bookmark this page because we’ll keep adding to the list as long as the Jenna Hager’s list keep growing.
(This article contains affiliate links. This means that if you choose to purchase, I’ll make a small commission.)
Top 10 Rated Books on Jenna’s Book Club List
Jenna’s book club picks a new book every month. If scrolling the entire multi-year list seems daunting, then perhaps you can narrow your options by looking and the most well-rated books as a starting point.
These are the top 10 books on the Jenna Bush Hager book club list….ranked by Goodreads ratings. All of them are 4+ star reads and you’ll find quite a mix of topic and genre on the list…so you are sure to find something you’ll like.
|4.47||Remarkably Bright Creatures|
|4.45||The Girl With the Louding Voice|
|4.30||The Four Winds|
|4.26||The Lincoln Highway|
|4.26||A Woman is No Man|
|4.23||These Impossible Things|
|4.17||The Secret History|
2023 Read with Jenna Book List
Sam, Alegra Goodman
- Recommended: January ’23
- Ratings: 3.98
This bildungsroman asks the question “What happens to a child’s sense of joy and belonging–her belief in herself–as she grows up?”
The book follows the titular Sam as she grows up from the ages of 7-19. Her dad is more absent than present and her mom is struggling to to keep the household together. Sam develops a passion for climbing, but she’s also torn between what she wants and meeting the expectations that others have for her. This is a character-driven coming of age story which explores themes of acceptance and discovering your path.
2022 Read with Jenna Book List
The Secret History, Donna Tartt
- Recommended: December ’22
- Ratings: 4.17
Jenna tossed us a throwback to the early ’90’s with this classic book by Tartt. It’s a dark academia story that follows six students at Hampden College in Vermont. They come under the thrall of Professor Morrow, who teaches the Greek Classics. As they get further steeped into the classics, they attempt to commune with Dionysus by performing a Bacchanal. Things go terribly wrong and a death occurs.
The book is stuffed with secrets, race/class/culture dynamics, lies, blackmail, longing and jealousy.
“Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it.”
The Cloisters, Katy Hayes
- Recommended: November ’22
- Ratings: 3.59
Dusty old museum (check). Renaissance occult obsessions (check). Darkly gothic academia (check, check, check).
When Ann is offered the opportunity to work the summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she’s thrilled. But then she gets assigned to the dark corners of The Cloisters, which is a museum deep in the Bronx housing a medieval art collection and some arcane research on divination. Ann begins working with one of the researchers to put together an exhibit on divination and they uncover a mysterious deck of Tarot cards. Mystery and mayhem ensue.
A slow burn thriller ensues features a dangerous game of power, seduction, lies and ambition.
The Whalebone Theatre, Joanna Quinn
- Recommended: October ’22
- Ratings: 4.10
When a whale washes up on the shores of Dorset, England, Cristabel makes the most of it by turning the skeleton into a magical theatre. Her landowning family is partial to collecting bohemian hangers-on. And this motley crew of eccentrics help to shape Cristabel into a headstrong, independent young woman. When WWII breaks out, Cristabel and her siblings get drawn in in different ways and she finds herself doing clandestine work.
The book strikes a chord with vivid characters, a caring sibling story and coming of age at a difficult time.
Solito, Javier Zamora
- Recommended: September ’22
- Ratings: 4.52
Javier Zamora was nine when he made the long journey as an unaccompanied minor from El Salvador to join his parents in America. The trip that was supposed to take two weeks, ended up taking two months. Along the way, Zamora tried hard to be brave but he was forced to persevere way beyond his years.
“This is an unforgettable story of faith, love and perseverance that should be read by young adults as well as adults. It places the immigrant experience on a moving personal level filled with hope, cruelty and miracles.”
The Many Daughters of Afong Moy, Jamie Ford
- Recommended: August ’22
- Ratings: 3.91
Dorothy Moy is our main character, but the story really goes back in time to tell the story of seven women in her lineage. They are all related by trauma, which keeps resurfacing, generation after generation. Each of them feels emotions from a past that they never experienced, and in Dorothy’s case, it manifests as depression.
She’s determined not to let the same happen to her daughter and so she seeks a radical treatment. She’s trying to proactively break the cycle, with the hope that ‘by no longer identifying as victims of the past, we are empowered to change the future.’
The timespan of the book ranges from 1836 to 2086 and it’s an interesting mix of both historical fiction and speculative fiction.
The Measure, Nikki Erlick
- Recommended: July ’22
- Ratings: 4.10
If you received a mysterious box and the contents could tell you how long you had to live, would you open it? And if so, how would you respond to the knowing?
Erlick’s book tackles these questions when everyone over 22 receives such a box on their doorstep. The book follows eight main characters as their lives are changed by the knowledge. Reactions range from defiance to resignation with societal conflicts arising between the short-timers versus those long-timers.
This book would make a particularly good book club read– lots to talk about here– which you can do using our book club questions for The Measure.
These Impossible Things, Salma El-Wardany
- Recommended: June ’22
- Ratings: 4.23
This is a coming of age story following the lives of three Muslim women, Malak, Kees, and Jenna, as they navigate their way through adulthood, romantic entanglements and familial obligations while staying true to their deeply held faith. They are challenged with how to start adulting and craft their own lives, in the context of strong culture and societal norms.
And the difficult choices that they make, stress the bonds of both family and friendship.
Remarkably Bright Creatures, Shelby Van Pelt
- Recommended: May ’22
- Ratings: 4.47
Seventy-year-old Tova Sullivan works the nightshift as a cleaner at Sowell Bay Aquarium. She was recently widowed and also still mourns the loss of her son, who disappeared in the Puget Sound. Tova doesn’t really need to work, but she like to keep busy and she prefers to share her time with those who don’t ask a lot of questions.
Enter Marcellus. He’s a giant octopus who was rescued by the aquarium. However, he believes himself to be a captive. He fancies himself a pretty bright octopus and he keeps stretching the bounds of his tank by occasionally escaping…and Tova keeps finding him. Over time, the two develop a very special bond.
“This book warmed my heart! It was charming, wholesome, and thoughtful. This book explores themes of grief, healing, aging, loneliness, and friendship.”
Read it for book club and use our Remarkably Bright Creatures discussion questions.
Memphis, Tara M. Stringfellow
- Recommended: April ’22
- Ratings: 4.15
This moving debut charts the lives of three generations of black women. As it unfolds over 70 years, we see the sorrows, tragedy, poverty, violence, sacrifice, and heartbreak of these women, and also the repercussions for the generations that follow.
As the book opens, Miriam and her two children escape domestic violence and flee to her family’s ancestral home in Memphis.
“There is a mesmerizing quiet beauty in this story, while also sharing a darkness that permeates the lives of these characters.”
Groundskeeping, Lee Cole
- Recommended: March ’22
- Ratings: 3.59
Groundskeeping is good for Sally Roony fans. It features the story of two people from very different backgrounds and social classes who meet in a small Kentucky town. Owen is a student and groundskeeper at a small liberal arts college and Alma is a visiting writer on a fellowship. Owen and Alma fall in love easily but keep their relationship on the QT as they try to navigate their differences.
“Well written, this is an engrossing story, with good insight into the the different Americas that have been ripped apart by the politics of our times.”
Black Cake, Charmaine Wilkerson
- Recommended: February ’22
- Ratings: 4.15
Siblings Byron and Benny try to set aside their differences as they try to understand the mother who recently died. She leaves behind a traditional Caribbean black cake and an 8 hour recording that reveals some startling family secrets.
The story is about loss, about the decisions we make that we can never take back, and the sacrifices we’re forced to make. Some of the book’s themes include: fraught family dynamics, resentments and regrets, the cultural diaspora, regrets, race and identity and climate change.
The School for Good Mothers, Jessamine Chan
- Recommended: January ’22
- Ratings: 3.57
In this chilling dystopia, a parent’s worst nightmare comes true when their children are taken to reform schools when the overreaching government has scrutinized their parenting skills…and found them wanting. Everything is at stake and the pressure to be perfect is extremely high.
Frida is struggling to be a good mother, and she gets caught out on a bad day. Now she needs to do everything she can to keep her daughter.
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2021 Read with Jenna Book List
Bright Burning Things, Lisa Harding
- Recommended: December ’21
- Ratings: 3.37
Sonya Moriarty was once a successful Irish actress but her life has now spiraling out of control into alcoholism. She’s got a four year old son to take care of, but the family dog seems to be doing more for him than Sonya is. Follow Sonya and her son during a few earth-shattering months as Sonya is forced to confront her drinking problem and make it right.
The Family, Naomi Krupitsky
- Recommended: November ’21
- Ratings: 3.63
Sofia Colicchio and Antonia Russo are best friends who were raised together in 20th century Brooklyn. Both of their families belong to The Mob, and things get difficult when Antonia’s father tries to find another life for his family…and then disappears.
Strong Elena Ferrante vibes featuring a life-long friendship between two very different women.
The Lincoln Highway, Amor Towles
- Recommended: October ’21
- Ratings: 4.26
Much like the titular Interstate, The Lincoln Highway spans the country, connecting the stories of five young characters in Midcentury America, and presenting a slice of a time that was in no way simple.
This book is not a quaint portrait of a romantic era. Rather, The Lincoln Highway is a layered journey about the burdens of expectations, the grief of lost dreams, and the meaning of home.
Reading groups will appreciate discussing the books themes of ambition, privilege, metamorphosis and mental health.
Read it for your own book club and use our reading guide for the Lincoln Highway to drive the conversation.
Beautiful Country, Qian Julie Wang
- Recommended: September ’21
- Ratings: 4.21
Qian Julie Wang has written an eye-opening debut memoir told through the lens of her youth. The book is an incredible and often heartbreaking view of her life growing up as an undocumented immigrant in New York City. Her well-educated parents have to take menial jobs, just to survive. Qian teaches herself English through a combination of PBS programming and library books.
This book is heartbreaking, heavy and an unflinching look at immigration.
The audiobook get good marks for performance. And if you like audio memoirs, we have a list of great one that are read by the author.
The Turnout, Megan Abbott
- Recommended: August ’21
- Ratings: 3.14
Sisters Dara and Marie, and Dara’s husband Charlie all grew up dancing in the Durant School of Dance. It was run by Dara and Marie’s Mom, and it took up the top two floors of a squat, rusty brick office building downtown. The place became theirs after car accident took their parents’ lives.
A fire at the studio sets in motion a series of events that upset the balance, bringing their fragility, secrets and obsessions to light. It’s a “slow-burning sinister; a gothic suburban drama…featuring insular and codependent characters drifting between a crumbling house.”
Hell of a Book, Jason Mott
- Recommended: July ’21
- Ratings: 4.07
The protagonist is on a successful tour to promote his book: “Hell of a Book”. He has an unnamed condition that makes it difficult for him to understand what is real and what is a figment of his imagination. Something happened in his past which brought on this condition and its effect is to bring out his creativity while allowing for an “alternative” universe to occur. And because of this, the author experiences some pretty madcap moments.
There is also a historic back-story of an African-American boy named “Soot”, who is schooled by his parents to be as invisible as possible in order to avoid conflict in his racist town.
The book is a “moving meditation on being Black in America”, told by a masterfully unreliable narrator.
We’ve also feature this novel on our list of 20 books that feature books as a key driver of the narrative.
Malibu Rising, Taylor Jenkins Reid
- Recommended: June ’21
- Ratings: 4.09
The book follows the Riva siblings over the course of 24 hours, as they prepare to attend their famous sister Nina’s house party. These flawed characters come to the party packing a combustible brew of secrets, toxic relationships, betrayals and emotional family dysfunction.
By the end of the party, it all spills over and the house party (literally) ends up in flames.
Great Circle, Maggie Shipstead
- Recommended: May ’21
- Ratings: 4.14
The book has a dual timeline saga featuring two women: one is a pioneering aviatrix of the early 20th century; the other is a present day actress portraying the pilot in a biopic.
Marian Graves (the aviatrix) was orphaned as a child and raised by her uncle in Montana. She became a barnstorming pioneer before disappearing on a circumnavigation of the globe in 1950’s. Hadley (the actress) is caught in the confining prison of Hollywood typecasting and is hoping to use this role to break out of it.
Good Company, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
- Recommended: April ’21
- Ratings: 3.39
Flora thinks she’s lucky. She’s watched other marriages disintegrate but her marriage to Julian is strong and stable…or so she thinks. When she finds the wedding ring that he claims to have lost years ago, it makes her question what’s really going on.
The books covers Flora and Julian’s early marriage, their friendship with successful Margot, their ups, their downs and the inevitable messes that occur when a marriage lasts as long as theirs.
What’s Mine and Yours, Naima Coster
- Recommended: March ’21
- Ratings: 3.58
Race, addiction, social class, and relationships are just some of the subjects the author tackles in this book. It follows Gee (whose Black) and Noelle (whose half-Latina but whose mom thinks of her only as White) as they collide in an integrated school. Their Moms have fierce devotion for their kids, with some with antagonistic results that play out over 20 years.
Send for Me, Lauren Fox
- Recommended: February ’21
- Ratings: 3.46
When Clare stumbles upon a trove of her grandmother’s letters from Germany, she learns about the great sadness and sacrifice her grandmother took when immigrating to Wisconsin on the eve of WWII.
Annelise didn’t want to leave Germany, nor did she want to leave her mother and father behind. But the increasing pressures against Jews in the run-up to WWII forced the closure of the family bakery and she had little choice.
This is a moving, character driven story of family bonds, regret and difficult choices.
The Four Winds, Kristin Hannah
- Recommended: February ’21
- Ratings: 4.30
It’s the depression and the dust bowl drought has ravaged Elsa’s farm. The crops and farm animals are dying and then her son takes ill. Elsa has to decide whether to stick it out, or like so many others, take a perilous journey and migrate to California.
This book is not an easy journey for readers and the themes of tough times, tough women and survival will make for great conversation fodder for any book club.
Black Buck, Mateo Askaripour
- Recommended: January ’21
- Ratings: 3.76
This absurd satire pokes hard at the tenacious racism that persists in corporate America. “Buck” joins the sales team at New York’s hottest start-up and quickly finds himself their face of diversity (simply because he’s the only Black hire). He adapts to the high octane culture, becoming an aggressive, money-minded salesperson. But a tragedy at home forces him to rethink his priorities.
2020 Jenna Book Picks
The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
- Recommended: December ’20
- Ratings: 4.09
Pecola grows up in Ohio, in the years following the Great Depression. Because of her dark skin and facial features, she is consistently regarded as “ugly” and she dearly wishes for blue eyes. She has been conditioned by circumstance and abuse to believe in her own inferiority. In the book, Morrison forces us to walk in Pecola’s shoes and face her isolation and pain.
“This soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear, and when the land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live. We are wrong, of course, but it doesn’t matter. It’s too late.”
White Ivy, Susie Yang
- Recommended: November ’20
- Ratings: 3.58
As a child, Ivy shoplifts to give herself the trappings of a status life. But, she’s resentful of her poor-kid status at the elite school that she attends only because her father is an employee. She connects with rich and popular Gideon, but when her mother learns of the shoplifting, Ivy is sent back to China as a punishment.
When she returns to the US much later, she re-connects with Gideon and uses all that she has to try to get back in with the society crowd. But there is something lurking in her past that threatens it all.
“It’s a deconstruction of the vapidity of the rich, the stratification of wealth, and the consequences of always looking past what you have for the next best thing.”
Leave the World Behind, Rumaan Alam
- Recommended: October ’20
- Ratings: 3.22
A White family is vacationing in the Hamptons when the Black owners of the home they are renting show up unannounced. The owners are fleeing a total black-out in NYC (electricity, phone, internet). Sometime terrible is going on, but what is it? Can the families trust one another?
“Literary suspense with a whisper of horror.”
Transcendent Kingdom, Ya Gyasi
- Recommended September ’20
- Ratings: 4.13
A heart clenching story of a family who immigrated from small town of Ghana to Alabama with the dream of gaining a better life. Gifty become a PhD candidate in neuroscience at Stanford University. All seems on track for their dreams, but a tragedy with Gifty’s brother spirals her mother into a deep depression.
Gifty uses her science background to explore what has happened to her family and along the way, she questions her faith in God and what she had thought of as her truth.
“It’s pure, heartbreaking, intense and honest.”
Here For It, R. Eric Thomas
- Recommended: August ’20
- Ratings: 4.06
In this series of essays, Thomas shares his experiences as the outsider who’s always looking in. He writes about struggling to reconcile his Christian identity with his sexuality, about the exhaustion of code-switching in college and accidentally getting famous on the internet (for the wrong reason).
“Joyful, deeply felt, and intensely funny, this is a book for everyone who has ever struggled with marginalization, self-acceptance, or just the nagging sense of being at odds with the world.”
Recommended for fans of Samantha Irby and David Sedaris (both of which do a great job of reading their own works on audio.)
The Comeback, Ella Berman
- Recommended: August ’20
- Ratings: 3.76
Grace Turner is a teen actress plucked from obscurity, a rising star taken under the wing of a charming and powerful film director. She mysteriously disappears on the eve of the Golden Globes, only to reappear a year later. And now she has to face the man who controlled her from the start.
It’s about #metoo and men with too much power. But it’s also about learning how to survive in an emotionally bereft and predatory business.
Friends and Strangers, J. Courtney Sullivan
- Recommended: July ’20
- Ratings: 3.67
This is a slow paced drama and an insightful and compassionate look into new motherhood. Elizabeth is missing her New York life and struggling to adjust to motherhood. She hires Sam as a babysitter. At first it’s great, but things get complicated and some simmering issues in their relationship burst to the surface.
Key themes include social class, wealth, education, working mothers, and female relationships.
A Burning, Megha Majumdar
- Recommended: June ’20
- Ratings: 3.74
A vicious train attack by terrorists has just taken place. Right afterwards Jivan posts an ill-advised comment regarding the attack. She is soon arrested and accused of participating in it. PR Sir, her former gym teacher, will do anything to gain pollical clout with a right-wing party, so he tanks her efforts to prove her innocence. And Lovely, an aspiring actress can provide an alibi, but she’ll have to give up a lot to do so.
This sociopolitical book covers themes like: class, fate, corruption and justice.
All Adults Here, Emma Straub
- Recommended: May ’20
- Ratings: 3.60
If you like domestic fiction with quirky characters, this is the book for you. We follow 68 year old Astrid who, in a flash of insight, realizes that she made some pretty serious parenting mistakes early on. It prompts her to come clean to her adult kids about her secrets, and to try to re-engage with them.
For their part, the three siblings each have their own flawed family dynamics, secrets, frustrations and trouble navigating their shifting relationships.
Valentine, Elizabeth Wetmore
- Recommended: April ’20
- Ratings: 3.79
“It may not be that misery was born in Odessa, but it sure seems eager to stop by and visit as often as possible on its way to bigger game.”
The particular tragic misery of this book occurs right as the 1976 oil boom is happening in Odessa, Texas. It’s perpetrated upon 14 year old Gloria who finds herself raped and severely beaten. She seeks help at a nearby farmhouse even as the perpetrator tries to find and silence her.
The crime’s aftermath focuses on Gloria and three other women who are trying to navigate a town where the men look after their own and everyone is hiding something.
Writers & Lovers, Lily King
- Recommended: March ’20
- Ratings: 4.06
Even as she waits tables and lives in a shabby apartment, Casey is stubbornly clinging to her desire to live a creative life. She’s been trying to write her novel for 6 years and she’s struggling to figure out what to do with her life in the wake of her mother’s death.
What starts as a book that looks at Casey’s life struggles evolves into a commentary on writing…and all that it demands and provides.
The Girl with the Louding Voice, Abi Daré
- Recommended: February ’20
- Ratings: 4.46
Fourteen year old Adunni dreams of escaping the life of poverty she was born into, so that she can build a future that she chooses for herself. It’s not easy, as she is married off to a much older man and later has to work in an abusive and slavish situation in Lagos, Nigeria.
But Adunni persists at becoming educated, bettering her station and finding her “louding voice”.
“We hear Adunni’s voice not only with our ears but also with our entire six senses, with our hearts and our souls! She leaves indelible and remarkable imprint on your soul! You cry and you smile each time you remember her story!”
Dear Edward, Ann Napolitano
- Recommended: January ’20
- Ratings: 4.09
A plane enroute from Newark to Los Angeles crashes, killing everyone on board except for 12 year old Edward Adler. But the book isn’t just about the flight and the crash. It also follows Edward throughout his life as his friends, remaining family and doctors help him heal.
“It’s thought provoking in a number of ways – how does a young boy bear his grief, this loss, the trauma of what he has experienced but it made me consider how little we know of the burdens that people whose paths we cross might carry. This book is full of sadness, without a doubt, but it is also filled with shared sorrow, love, friendship and caring. A beautiful story.”
Jenna’s Book Club List: 2019
Here’s an archive of the older Jenna’s Book Club picks.
Late Migrations, Margret Renkl
- Recommended: December ’19
- Ratings: 4.30
Nothing to See Here, Kevin Wilson
- Recommended: November ’19
- Ratings: 3.95
The Dearly Beloved, Cara Wall
- Recommended: September ’19
- Ratings: 4.08
Patsy, Nicole Dennis-Benn
- Recommended: August ’19
- Ratings: 3.91
Evvie Drake Stars Over, Linda Holmes
- Recommended: July ’19
- Ratings: 3.84
Searching for Sylvie Lee, Jean Kwok
- Recommended: June ’19
- Ratings: 3.66
The Unwinding of a Miracle, Julie Yip-Williams
- Recommended: April ’19
- Ratings: 4.09
The Last Romantics, Tara Conklin
- Recommended: March ’19
- Ratings: 3.73
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