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Book clubs  •  3 July 2024

 

Jade and Emerald book club questions

A fierce, emotional, and nostalgic novel to read with your book club.

Lei Ling Wen is lonely. Bored of her demanding after-school schedule of tuition, study and violin lessons, she struggles to see eye to eye with her strict Chinese-Malaysian mother.

When Lei Ling is befriended by elegant, worldly socialite Gigi Nu, she is enchanted by the realm of luxury and freedom that suddenly opens up to her. Gigi encourages Lei Ling to flout her routines and treats her to designer products and expensive meals, and soon Lei Ling finds herself caught between two lives, and increasingly at odds with her exasperated mother.

Then tragedy strikes, and Lei Ling discovers long-held secrets that lead her to question everything she thought she knew about the two central women in her life, and the friendship she’d held at the heart of it.

Discussion points and questions

  • Lei Ling Wen’s relationship with her mother is at the heart of the novel. How relatable did you find their relationship? Did you understand why her mother pushed her so hard?

  • What motivated Gigi to befriend Lei Ling? Do you think she was only using Lei Ling to get to her mother, or that, as Jing Fei suggests at the end of the story, Gigi grew to love Lei Ling for who she was?

  • Do you think Gigi was able to empathise with Lei Ling’s struggles, or that, despite her kindness, she was largely oblivious to the rifts she was creating between mother and daughter?

  • What does the title, Jade and Emerald, evoke for you?

  • In her praise for Jade and Emerald, Melanie Cheng wrote that it ‘is a book that delights in contrasts, whether it be Gigi’s Chanel N°5 perfume contrasted with the chicken stock smell of Lei Ling’s mother, or an indulgent afternoon tea at Melbourne’s finest hotel contrasted with the experience of wolfing down leftovers in a school toilet cubicle’. What other contrasts did you identify in the novel, and how did they deepen your sense of the different worlds and themes explored?

  • Do we ever escape our school days? Why is belonging such a primal driver of behaviour?

  • How does the theme of music drive the novel forward? Why do you think Lei Ling has such a complicated relationship with the violin?

  • Jade and Emerald is wonderfully replete with late ’90s tech and pop culture references, from Game Boys and Tamagotchis to Britney Spears and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. How nostalgic was the book for you?

  • What is the significance of Lei Ling’s name change, and of her mother’s eventual decision to recognise that new name?

  • Food, in all its glorious variety, has a strong presence in the manuscript, from Emily’s Zooper Doopers to Jing Fei’s chicken stock and Gigi’s cake extravaganzas. What stories do food and the rituals surrounding it tell across the novel?

  • Despite their shared culture, Gigi, Jing Fei and Lei Ling are very different people with vastly different approaches and attitudes towards life. Discuss.

  • Why do you think Angela was so cruel to Lei Ling, and what was the primary reason for their reconciliation towards the end of the story?

  • The blurb of Jade and Emerald describes it as a novel about ‘accepting who you are and where you come from’. How does this theme play out in the story?

  • Life’s big subjects – family, isolation, migration, class, culture, identity, friendship, sexuality and education – are all part of Jade and Emerald. What do you think the author, Michelle See-Tho, most wanted to explore and convey?

Feature Title

Jade and Emerald
From the winner of the 2023 Penguin Literary Prize.
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