Are you ready for a turbulent ride through Covid? Use these Wish You Were Here book club questions to explore Jodi Picoult’s knock-out story about Diana O’Toole, an ambitious art dealer from New York and her adoring boyfriend Finn, a promising surgical resident. Diana has her whole life planned out and on track, until Covid hits– throwing everything off the rails. Finn has to skip their planned trip to the Galapagos in order to work non-stop caring for Covid patients, so Diana decides to take the trip alone. When she becomes stranded on the island, she befriends a man, his daughter, and mother, and begins to ask herself some important life questions.
The major plot twist in the book will really bring up a lot of questions for your book group. Between Finn’s desperate struggle to help people live, and Diana’s reflections on life and love, there’s a ton to discuss here.
This Wish You Were Here discussion guide will help you do just that with discussion prompts, a synopsis, and some selected reviews for the book. And if you liked it, we’ve also got suggestions for some related reads.
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Wish You Were Here Synopsis
(We always chose to provide the publisher synopsis because we feel that it’s worthwhile to discuss whether the official book description actually squared with your experience of the book.)
Wish You Were Here, Jodi Picoult
Diana O’Toole is perfectly on track. She will be married by thirty, done having kids by thirty-five, and move out to the New York City suburbs, all while climbing the professional ladder in the cutthroat art auction world. She’s an associate specialist at Sotheby’s now, but her boss has hinted at a promotion if she can close a deal with a high-profile client. She’s not engaged just yet, but she knows her boyfriend, Finn, a surgical resident, is about to propose on their romantic getaway to the Galápagos—days before her thirtieth birthday. Right on time.
But then a virus that felt worlds away has appeared in the city, and on the eve of their departure, Finn breaks the news: It’s all hands on deck at the hospital. He has to stay behind. You should still go, he assures her, since it would be a shame for all of their nonrefundable trip to go to waste. And so, reluctantly, she goes.
Almost immediately, Diana’s dream vacation goes awry. Her luggage is lost, the Wi-Fi is nearly nonexistent, and the hotel they’d booked is shut down due to the pandemic. In fact, the whole island is now under quarantine, and she is stranded until the borders reopen. Completely isolated, she must venture beyond her comfort zone. Slowly, she carves out a connection with a local family when a teenager with a secret opens up to Diana, despite her father’s suspicion of outsiders.
In the Galápagos Islands, where Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection was formed, Diana finds herself examining her relationships, her choices, and herself—and wondering if when she goes home, she too will have evolved into someone completely different.
10 Wish You Were Here Book Club Questions
- What about that plot twist! How did you respond to the lucid dream?
- “I learned the hard way that you shouldn’t stay with someone because of your past together – what matters more is if you want the same things in the future.”
Do you think Diana and Finn would have gotten married if Covid had never happened?
- What were your experiences during Covid? Did the experiences in this book resonate with you?
- What do you think about Diana’s relationship with her mother? How did that shape the person she became?
- Finn’s letters expressed a lot about the trauma medical personnel had to go through during Covid. How did you react to those? Did you have any friends or family members who experienced it?
- “Everything you’re seeing up in the night sky happened thousands of years ago, because the light takes so long to reach us,” Gabriel says. “I always thought it was so strange… that sailors chart where they’re going in the future by looking at a map of the past.”
What do you think about Gabriel? What did he represent in Diana’s life?
- And also, what do you think about Beatriz? What did she represent in Diana’s life?
- Did you miss the characters from the island? What do you think about how Diana dealt with losing them?
- The mind works in mysterious ways, as Diana experienced. Have you or anyone you know had any experiences like that– perhaps psychosis, fanciful daydreams, or imaginative what-ifs?
- “Grief, it turns out, is a lot like a one-sided video conversation on an iPad. It’s the call with no response, the echo of affection, the shadow cast by love.”
There are numerous people dealing with grief in this book. Discuss how each character dealt with it. Did you relate?
Selected Reviews of Wish You Were Here
“This book took my breath away, making me terrified, scared, shaking me to the core: I’m overwhelmed because of dealing with complex feelings at the same time: sadness, amusement, excitement, stress, worry, anxiousness…”
“It’s another Sliding Doors theme: where you could be and what kind of situations you may deal with if you make different choices about your life in the middle of a pandemic. This is a philosophical, meta physical and psychological novel about how human lives evolve, how they change, how adapt in new normal but mostly it’s about how to stay alive and protect our sanity when all hell breaks loose.”
“Of all the books I have read this year, I cannot think of any that will resonate so deeply with a global audience as this one. Jodi Picoult carries out an impressive level of research for her oh so human look at the pain, losses, lockdown, heartbreak, grief, loneliness and isolation experienced by people as the horrifying nightmare of Covid-19 took hold and shut down so much of the world. I can understand if this is too soon for many readers to read about, but I found this to be an absolutely riveting read, highlighting the incredibly courageous work of the frontline medical staff, whilst providing an insightful glimpse into the beauty and nature of the Galapagos Islands, its people, history and culture.”
“Jodi Picoult is a favorite author of mine. Her storylines and characters are usually a ‘for sure’ fit for me. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case with this novel (which was extra disappointing). A few major things didn’t work for me — the main character and the storyline itself. I wasn’t a fan of the main character, Diana. She wasn’t likable, didn’t feel genuine and came across as selfish. My lack of connection with her kept me at a distance from the entire storyline. I was interested but never invested. […] I simply wasn’t a fan of the way Covid was incorporated into the book. I also felt that the book was too heavy on the romance aspect.”
“Ready to relive the early days of COVID? The days of Tiger King, toilet paper, and trauma? Banging pots and pans, and cutting your own hair? Well, check out this book, then, which is like going down a bad memory lane. […] Some people might find it too depressing and traumatic, so be warned.”
3 Books Like Wish You Were Here
Go deep by reading more of Picoult’s books. We’ve got a list of ALL Jodi Picoult books, ranked and rated.
If you like books that explore the “what if”, we recommend The Midnight Library.
Black Cake, Charmaine Wilkerson
Estranged siblings Byron and Benny are brought back together after their mothers death. Through an audio recording given to her lawyer, they learn about their mother’s past, her delicious black cake recipe, and family secrets. Through an exploration of the past, the siblings confront issues about their identity, family secrets, and how choices made in the past affect our future.
This Time Tomorrow, Emma Straub
For another exploration of parental relationships with a heady spin, read This Time Tomorrow. The story follows Alice, a nearly 40 year old school administration officer, who is facing the death of her declining father Leonard. One night after a bit too much to drink, she suddenly wakes up on the day of her 16th birthday, when her father was only in his 40’s. Through bouts of time travel back and forth, the story explores the father daughter relationship, the nature of aging and letting go, and the impact of our choices in an endearing and engaging manner.
The Sentence, Louise Erdrich
For another thought provoking novel set during the Covid pandemic, check out Louise Erdrich’s The Sentence. Bookseller Tookie is reckoning with the turbulent social and political events happening in Minneapolis in 2019 and 2020. Formerly incarcerated, she works on rebuilding her life, while simultaneously dealing with a former customer who is now haunting her bookshop. All these elements combine humor, pain, and hope into an intriguing story.
And if you like reading diversely, it’s a great read by a Native American author, featuring Native American characters and culture.
Read it for book club and use our discussion guide for The Sentence.
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Authored by Lacy Challe
She’s is an avid reader who lives in Wisconsin with her husband, two children, and dog. She has loved reading and writing about books since childhood, and eventually earned degrees in Comparative Literature and Library and Information Science. She loves analyzing books and providing recommendations to family and friends.