The Measure, has a firecracker for a premise, and it’s sure to liven up your book club. Written by debut author Nikki Erlick and selected by the Today Show’s book club, Read with Jenna, The Measure confronts readers with a reality we prefer to tune out: all of our lives will end, some sooner than others.
The Measure is packed with so many philosophical questions, it feels as if Erlick was writing with book clubs in mind. Are our lives governed by free will or fate? Why do we view those who are less fortunate than us with fear and hostility? Does a clear awareness of death make life more worth living? Our list of The Measure book club questions will help you rise to Erlick’s challenge in analyzing these themes.
Our discussion guide for The Measure will keep your book club’s discussion flowing naturally. First, we’ve given you a book synopsis and also 10 book club questions for The Measure. Much like how the novel’s mysterious boxes the story brought out different responses in the characters, our questions will reveal the diversity in your book club and challenge you to understand different view points. Finally, we’ve curated a few quotes from book reviews to bring in opinions from outside your usual circle.
And don’t forget, if you enjoyed The Measure, we can recommend similar reads. Scroll to the end of this guide for 3 suggested read-alikes.
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The Measure Synopsis
The Measure, Nikki Erlick
Eight ordinary people. One extraordinary choice.
It seems like any other day. You wake up, pour a cup of coffee, and head out.
But today, when you open your front door, waiting for you is a small wooden box. This box holds your fate inside: the answer to the exact number of years you will live.
From suburban doorsteps to desert tents, every person on every continent receives the same box. In an instant, the world is thrust into a collective frenzy. Where did these boxes come from? What do they mean? Is there truth to what they promise?
As society comes together and pulls apart, everyone faces the same shocking choice: Do they wish to know how long they’ll live? And, if so, what will they do with that knowledge?
The Measure charts the dawn of this new world through an unforgettable cast of characters whose decisions and fates interweave with one another: best friends whose dreams are forever entwined, pen pals finding refuge in the unknown, a couple who thought they didn’t have to rush, a doctor who cannot save himself, and a politician whose box becomes the powder keg that ultimately changes everything.
Enchanting and deeply uplifting, The Measure is a sweeping, ambitious, and invigorating story about family, friendship, hope, and destiny that encourages us to live life to the fullest.
10 The Measure Book Club Questions
These questions have been tailored to this book’s specific reading experience, but if you want more ideas, we also have an article with 101 generic book club questions.
- When the boxes arrive, many people believe they are a hoax. Would you have believed in the boxes’ supernatural powers immediately? Why or why not?
- Nina agrees to open her box, against her better judgment, because she doesn’t want Maura to have to open her box alone. Later, national hotlines are set up so that people can speak to counselors while they open their boxes, rather than opening them alone. Why do you think it’s so important to have a friend present when you open your box? Would you want to open your box with someone else or alone?
- Erlick comes up with many unexpected ways the boxes could influence society: a rise in experimentation with heavy drugs, the creation of new dating apps, books of ancient mythology becoming bestsellers again. Can you think of other ripple effects the boxes might have on society? What subtle changes might your own box have on your life?
- After the Memorial Hospital shooting, Nina describes the boxes as “the world’s most fucked-up version of the chicken-or-the-egg conundrum.” Do you think Jonathan Clarke’s box can be held responsible for his death? Would you rather see the boxes as a cause or an effect of human choice?
- Hank’s decision to jump in front of the gun is described as “an instinctive impulse.” If he had more time to make a decision, do you think Hank would have given his life to save Anthony Rollins?
- When the boxes arrive, the length of the strings can only be loosely interpreted. Gradually, technology advances so the strings can estimate the length of a person’s life plus or minus a few years. Then technology is released which predicts the month when a person will die.
Do you think the strings were intended to be used to make such precise measurements? If you received a string, would you rather know exactly what it means or have a vague idea of what it means?
- After receiving short strings, many characters try to imagine the way they might die. If these characters received a second box telling them how they would die, do you think they would open it?
- Ben feels deeply betrayed by Claire’s decision to open his box without his permission. Meanwhile, Jack and Javier struggle with the lies they have told their family about their strings. Do you think loved ones have a right to know the length of each other’s strings? If you had the opportunity to open a loved one’s box without them knowing, would you do it?
- Rollins fuels the prejudice against short-stringers by stereotyping them as angry, mentally unstable, and dangerous. Do you think these stereotypes are used to fuel prejudice against minority groups in the real world? What other traits might be falsely used to fuel prejudice?
- In one of Amie’s early letters to Ben, she writes, “Since the strings arrived, so many of our conversations are about such big, heavy ideas, literally life and death. And I miss talking about the little things.”
Do you think Amie’s desire to focus on “the little things” is a healthy way to cope with the boxes? How is Amie different from other characters, who cope with the boxes by seeing them as a reminder to make the biggest possible impact with their lives?
Selected Reviews for The Measure
“This author so mimics our lives and our world that the book touches us in a way others do not. It enjoins us to practice human emotions like empathy, joy, and happiness and eliminate those who try to place us in states of anxiety and fear.”
“The characters stories were woven together very well. I thought that their reactions to the ‘new normal’ was conveyed in a very individual and believable way. The societal reactions/discriminations would’ve felt much less plausible if the past several years had not mirrored it so closely.”
“This is a multi-character driven exploration of human emotion. It does move at a slower pace after around the halfway point as all the storylines unfold and these characters grapple with their new realities. That would be my biggest complaint: too many POVs. […] As a result, the characters are mostly one dimensional and the reader never gets truly invested in them. I made an emotional connection with what they were facing and their situations, but not with them, which is a huge miss.”
“This book has so much potential and could have played out in so many ways, better ways. In saying that, this one chose a political view. The premise of this book was brilliant […] The political plot just overthrows this book. The characters were strong and really built up, and your waiting for this big bomb…and nothing. Three stars for the first few chapters.”
“This story is clearly an allegory, meant to teach a lesson about what happens when humanity finds yet another way to divide itself. And the author is definitely passionate about her views, imbuing meaning into every thought and interaction between the characters. Unfortunately, it does come across heavy-handed and soppy at times, with everything so clearly spelled out for the reader again and again.”
3 Books Like The Measure
If you like the picks from Jenna’s book club, we’ve also some other guides that have been featured by her club. Of them, Remarkably Bright Creatures has an improbably (and awesome) character, The Lincoln Highway features a bildungsroman road trip and A Woman is No Man has some extremely fraught family dynamics.
And if you’re keen for more speculative fiction that deals with life and death issues, we also have guides for Sea of Tranquility (pandemic/dystopic future sci-fi), The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue (what happens if someone lives an unnaturally long life), and The Midnight Library (what if you had chosen a different path in life).
The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
In a narratively ambitious move similar to the arrival of the unexplained boxes in The Measure, Zusak gives his novel, The Book Thief, a unique narrator: Death, himself. If you enjoyed puzzling over the ethics of “fate” while reading The Measure, you’re sure to enjoy the expansion of this theme in The Book Thief.
The serendipitously intertwined lives of the novel’s characters—an illiterate orphan, a besotted nine-year-old German boy, a sharp-tongued, creatively-charged Jewish man, and an accordion-playing foster father–will also appeal to fans of The Measure.
Sharks in the Time of Saviors, Kawai Strong Washburn
Like The Measure, Kawai Strong Washburn’s Sharks in the Time of Saviors begins with an unexpected and somewhat ambiguous prophecy: a child is saved from drowning by a school of sharks. The local community expects Nainoa to grow up to be a hero, but away from home, he faces prejudice against his race and economic class.
In a deeper, more confined multi-POV narrative than Erlick, Washburn explores each family member’s response to Nainoa’s destiny: their doubts, their resentment, and their secret hope.
Me Before You, Jojo Moyes
If you found yourself skimming through chunks of The Measure to get to back to the love stories, then Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You is the book for you. This novel provides similar heart flutters…and heart ache.
Like Nina and Amie, Louisa Clark, the protagonist of Me Before You, is faced with a heavy decision when she catches herself falling in love with the terminally-ill super hunk, Will Traynor. Her idealized notions of unconditional love are put to the test, as she decides whether the thrill of getting close to Will is worth the pain of losing him.
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Authored by Mallory Miles
Mallory Miles is a biologist for the US Forest Service and an avid reader since childhood. When she’s not combing the woods for endangered salamanders and orchids, she can be found at home, reading novels or writing her own stories, which have been published in Ecotone and The Stringybark Anthology.