Reading Group Guide
The Sweet Potato Queens' First Big-Ass Novel
By Jill Conner Browne
Questions for Discussion:
1. The novel begins with the question "Is a queen created or is she born that way?" (1) Do you agree that we must learn to "make our very own queen dust" (6), or do you think some people naturally sparkle more than others? Jill claims you can see "the gleam of a queen" (1) in baby pictures of Queen Elizabeth, Cher, and RuPaul. What other celebrities--male, female, or somewhere in between!--might have been born with a queenly glimmer in their eyes?
2. Jill narrates the novel in the first-person voice. How does this affect the way the story unfolds? Discuss what the novel might be like from the point of view of another one of the Queens. Could Mary Bennett, Gerald, Patsy, or Tammy capture the uproarious humor of Jill's narration?
3. Jill introduces the city of Jackson, Mississippi, by emphasizing the divide of Yazoo Road: "If you lived north of Yazoo, like Marcy Stevens did, you peed champagne and blew your nose in silk. If you lived south -- as I did -- you peed Dixie Beer and blew your nose in burlap" (9). What is the "personality" of Jackson? How is the town like another character in the book, or even another Queen? If this novel were set in your hometown, how would it be different?
4. Jill describes her thirteen-year-old self like this: "I was so skinnyŠthat when I ran I looked like an eggbeater coming down the road. If I turned sideways and stuck out my tongue, I looked like a zipper" (6). Think back to your own early teenage years. How would you humorously describe what you looked like back then? Were you as awkward as young Jill?
5. Jill's friends describe her as "a whiz at motivating people," "a born leader," and "a helluva cook" (44). So why does Jill think, "I must have been absent when God handed out talents" (45)? What do you think is behind her late-blooming career and unsatisfying love life? What has been holding her back?
6. The Sweet Potato Queens' four food groups are sweet, salty, fried, and au gratin! What are yours? Are they just as indulgent as the Queens'?
7. One of the themes of the novel is the importance of creating your own positive self-image. Take Tammy as an example. Discuss how her character evolves, from the Key Club incident in high school to realizing she's been "royalty in Jackson all along" (271). What mistakes does Tammy make, and how do they affect her self-image? What does it take for Tammy to accept herself as a real-life Sweet Potato Queen, instead of a fantasized "Lady Tammy" (218)?
8. Jill's writing career grows over the course of the novel, from joking about sending her articles to the Fish Wrapper Gazette (148), to her beloved column in The Diddy Wah Diddy, to realizing she should write a book about the Sweet Potato Queens. What helps Jill gain confidence in her writing? Do you think she successfully balances her career as a personal trainer with her love for writing?
9. How does Ross quickly win over Jill, who admits, "It was positively head-spinning how quickly my feelings for Ross had grown. I was like a sports car that had gone from zero to sixty in three dates" (183)? What are some of the warning signs that Ross is too good to be true? If you were in Jill's position, do you think you would fall for Ross's charms? Why or why not?
10. Compare the Tammys' 1968 homecoming float (on pages 38 to 42) to the Sweet Potato Queens' St. Paddy's Day Parade of 1989 (pages 271 to 278). What has changed on their float over the years, and what has remained the same?
11. What is Patsy's special talent, which earns her the nickname "Queen Poot" (274)? How does Patsy use her unique skill on Marcy Stevens? Does Marcy get what's coming to her?
12. What do you think of the novel's ending? Is this a happy ending for Jill, who has not yet found love? Discuss what Jill means by this statement: "Some day my king will come... . For the very first time, I thought I might be willing to let it happen" (278).
13. Which of the Sweet Potato Queens do you relate to the most, and why? Which Queen do you find the most comical, and which is the most practical?
14. The novel ends in 1989. Where do you see Jill, Tammy, Mary Bennett, Patsy, and Gerald in 2007, eighteen years later? Do you think the middle-aged Queens would still look just as fabulous in their St. Paddy's Day Parade prom gowns?
15. Name a scene in the book that made you laugh out loud. Did other members of your book club chuckle at the same moments?
16. If you've read any of Browne's other Sweet Potato Queens books, how does the Big-Ass Novel compare to her previous nonfiction titles? If this is your first time with the Sweet Potato Queens, are you planning to read the rest of the series?
Enhance Your Book Club:
1. If you haven't already, start your own O-fficial Chapter of the Sweet Potato Queens! There are more than five thousand chapters registered nationwide. Come up with a name and a motto, and nominate a member (or yourself) as Boss Queen. To get inspired, registered, and fully accessorized, visit the Sweet Potato Queens website: www.sweetpotatoqueens.com.
2. Have members of your book club make some of the recipes in The Sweet Potato Queens' First Big-Ass Novel. Share the food at your book club meeting. You might want to call your meeting to order by announcing, "COME AND GIT IT! (That's y'allbonics for bon appétit.)" (280)
3. Do a little research on Jackson, Mississippi. Have each member of your book club bring in one fun fact about the town, or a map or picture of a Jackson landmark. Maybe your group will want to take a field trip next March, for Mal's St. Paddy's Day Parade!