(Scroll down to read an excerpt and find book club questions.)
[A] beach chair worthy read.”—New York Times
“[A] hot summer beach book.”—USA Today
“Bestseller Cook charms again in this lively, warm-hearted look at changing courses mid-life.”—People
Seven Year Switch is the story of a single mother whose husband ran off to join the Peace Corps, leaving her with a three-year-old. Seven years later, just when they’ve figured out how to make it on their own, he’s ba-ack, proving he can’t even run away reliably! Now Jill has to face the fact that there’s simply no way she can be a good mom without letting her ex back into her daughter’s life. They say that every seven years you become a completely new person, and it takes a Costa Rican getaway to help Jill make her choice — between the woman she is and the woman she wants to be.
“A beach tote couldn’t ask for more.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Roll out your beach blanket for this sweet summer read about making mistakes and moving on.”—Publishers Weekly
“A lot of fun to read? Definitely!”—Redbook
“With wit and tenderness, Claire Cook sweeps us into the life of Jill Murray, a feisty single mom trying to stitch together a future after being abandoned by her husband. This is a delightful story of love, loss, and the surprising events that healed her heart. I cheered for Jill the entire way.”—Beth Hoffman
“A perfect beach read. Claire Cook once again demonstrates that she’s a master in creating funny, warm, relatable characters you root for from the very first page.”—Allison Winn Scotch
“Smart, truly hilarious, and entirely sympathetic. Like a hot bubble bath or a holiday at the beach, you won’t want it to end.” -—Cecily Von Ziegesar
“Seven years ago, Claire Cook told us we ‘Must Love Dogs.” But must we also love ex-husbands?…Cook takes a closer look at a complex situation.”—New York Post
2010 BEACH BOOK FESTIVAL AWARD GRAND PRIZE WINNER!
An Indie Next Pick in hardcover and paperback!
A Target new release bestseller pick!
Excerpted from Seven Year Switch.
Copyright © Claire Cook. All rights reserved.
I sailed into the community center just in time to take my Lunch Around the World class to China. I hated to be late, but my daughter Anastasia had forgotten part of her school project.
“Oh, honey,” I’d said when she called from the school office. “Can’t it wait until tomorrow? I’m just leaving for work.” I tried not to wallow in it, but sometimes the logistics of being a single mom were pretty exhausting.
“Mom,” she whispered, “it’s a diorama of a cow’s habitat, and I forgot the cow.”
I remembered seeing the small plastic cow grazing next to Anastasia’s cereal bowl at breakfast, but how it had meandered into the dishwasher was anyone’s guess. I gave it a quick rinse under the faucet and let it air dry on the ride to school. From there I high-tailed it to the community center.
Though it wasn’t the most challenging part of my work week, this Monday noon to two o’clock class got me home before my daughter, which in the dictionary of my life, made it the best kind of gig. Sometimes I even had time for a cup of tea before her school bus came rolling down the street. Who knew a cup of tea could be the most decadent part of your day.
I plopped my supplies on the kitchen counter and jumped right in “In Chinese cooking, it’s important to balance colors as well as contrasts in tastes and textures.”
“Take a deep breath, honey,” one of my favorite students said. Her name was Ethel and she had bright orange lips and I Love Lucy hair. “We’re not going anywhere.”
A man with white hair and matching eyebrows started singing “On a Slow Boat to China.” A couple of the women giggled. I took that deep breath.
“Yum cha is one of the best ways to experience this,” I continued. “Literally yum cha means “drinking tea,” but it actually encompasses both the tea drinking and the eating of dim sum, a wide range of light dishes served in small portions.”
“Yum-yum,” a man named Tom said. His thick glasses were smudged with fingerprints, and he was wearing a T-shirt that said Tune in Tomorrow for a Different Shirt.
“Let’s hope,” I said. “In any case, dim sum has many translations: ‘small eats,’ of course, but also ‘heart’s delight,’ ‘to touch your heart,’ and even ‘small piece of heart.’ I’ve often wondered if Janis Joplin decided to sing the song she made famous after a dim sum experience.”
Last night when I was planning my lesson, this had seemed like a brilliant and totally original cross-cultural connection, but everybody just nodded politely.
We made dumplings and pot stickers and mini spring rolls, and then we moved on to fortune cookies. Custard tarts or even mango pudding would have been more culturally accurate, but fortune cookies were always a crowd pleaser. I explained that the crispy, sage-laced cookies had actually been invented in San Francisco, and tried to justify my choice by adding that the original inspiration for fortune cookies possibly dated back to the thirteenth century, when Chinese soldiers slipped rice paper messages into mooncakes to help coordinate their defense against Mongolian invaders.
Last night Anastasia had helped me cut small strips of white paper to write the fortunes on. And because the cookies had to be wrapped around the paper as soon as they came out of the oven while they were still pliable, I’d bought packages of white cotton gloves at CVS and handed out one to each person. The single gloves kept the students’ hands from burning and were less awkward than potholders would have been.
They also made the class look like aging Michael Jackson impersonators. A couple of the women started to sing “Beat It” while they stirred the batter, and then everybody else joined in. There wasn’t a decent singer in the group, but some of them could still remember how to moonwalk.
After we finished packing up some to take home, we’d each placed one of our cookies in a big bamboo salad bowl. There’d been more giggling as we passed the bowl around the long, wobbly wooden table and took turns choosing a cookie and reading the fortune, written by an anonymous classmate, out loud.
“The time is right to make new friends.”
“A great adventure is in your near future.”
“A tall dark-haired man will come into your life.”
“You will step on the soil of many countries, so don’t forget to pack clean socks.”
“The one you love is closer than you think,” Ethel read. Her black velour sweat suit was dusted with flour.
“Oo-ooh,” the two friends taking the class with her said. One of them elbowed her.
The fortune cookies were a hit. So what if my students seemed more interested in the food than its cultural origins. I wondered if they’d still have signed up if I’d shortened the name of the class from Lunch Around the World to just plain Lunch. My class had been growing all session, and not a single person had asked for a refund. In this economy, everybody was cutting everything, and even community center classes weren’t immune. The best way to stay off the chopping block was to keep your classes full and your students happy.
I reached over and picked up the final fortune cookie, then looked at my watch. “Oops,” I said. “Looks like we’re out of time.” I stood and smiled at the group. “Okay, everybody, that’s it for today.” I nodded at the takeout cartons I’d talked the guy at the Imperial Dragon into donating to the cause. “Don’t forget your cookies, and remember, next week we’ll be lunching in Mexico.” I took care to pronounce it Mehico.
“Tacos?” T-shirt Tom asked.
“You’ll have to wait and see-eee,” I said, mostly because I hadn’t begun to think about next week. Surviving this one was enough of a challenge.
“Not even a hint?” a woman named Donna said.
I shook my head and smiled some more.
They took their time saying thanks and see you next week, as they grabbed their takeout boxes by the metal handles and headed out the door. A few even offered to help me pack up, but I said I was all set. It was faster to do it myself.
As I gave the counters a final scrub, I reviewed today’s class in my head. Overall, I thought it had gone well, but I still didn’t understand why the Janis Joplin reference had fallen flat.
I put the sponge down, picked up a wooden spoon, and got ready to belt out “Piece of My Heart.”
When I opened my mouth, a chill danced the full length of my spine. I looked up. A man was standing just outside the doorway. He had dark, wavy hair cascading almost to his shoulders and pale, freckled skin. He was tall and a little too thin. His long fingers gripped the doorframe, as if a strong wind might blow him back down the hallway.
He was wearing faded jeans and the deep green embroidered Guatemalan shirt I’d given my husband just before he abandoned us seven years ago.
Book Club Conversation Starters
1. Jill Murray’s entire life revolves around her daughter Anastasia. Do you think she has any regrets about the life/career she might have missed?
2. Just when Jill is finally figuring out how to make it on her own, her ex-husband shows up again. Do you think Jill had a choice about whether or not to let him back into her life?
3. Reinvention is clearly a theme in all of Claire Cook’s novels. How does Jill reinvent herself during the course of the novel? What triggers these changes?
4. There’s a theory that every seven years you become a completely different person. Do you think that’s true? When are you due for your next seven year switch? How will you change?
5. Joni is not just Jill’s boss, but her mentor and friend. Has there ever been a Joni in your own life? Have you ever taken on Joni’s role?
6. Even though Cynthia drives Jill crazy, Jill also admits she kind of wants to be her and even thinks she’d do a better job of it. Is there a Cynthia in your neighborhood? Do you feel that same ambivalence about her?
7. How are Seth and Billy alike? Different? How much of Jill’s growth has to do with whether or not she ends up with either of them, or with any guy at all?
8. Jill’s life didn’t turn out quite the way she planned. Do you feel that way about your own life? Do you think almost everyone does to some degree?
9. In many ways, Jill is stuck. Do you think she projects her fears about moving forward in her own life onto her 10-year-old daughter Anastasia? Do you think some of this is the result of being a single mom, or do all mothers do this?
10. How important is it for Jill to go on a girlfriend getaway of her own? How important is it for you? Okay, so where are you going and when?
11. The Passport to Your Next Chapter at the end of the book shifts the focus from the fictional world of the novel to the reader’s own life. Which of these seven simple steps inspired you? Surprised you?
12. Book clubs often serve book-related food and/or drinks when they meet to discuss Claire Cook’s novels. What is your book club planning to serve when you meet to discuss SEVEN YEAR SWITCH? Fortune cookies? Huli Huli chicken? Mojitos? Email Claire and let her know. Did a question come up in your discussion that might help another book club? Did you remember to take a photo of your book club’s meeting? If so, email those to Claire, too, so she can post!
More praise for Seven Year Switch
“If you have a penchant for women’s literature that rejects bodice-ripping fantasy in favor of real women with brains, substance, and sense of humor well intact, functioning in the real world with all its prickly realities, Seven Year Switch is thoroughly satisfying.”—North County Times
“Cook clearly owns the beach scene.”—The Patriot Ledger
“Another endearing story of moving on and starting over…. Cook tells this involving story of forgiveness and acceptance with heart, charm, and characters you can’t help but root for.”—Booklist
“As sure as the summer breezes will descend upon the shores, Claire Cook delivers yet another charming and delightful story that will capture her readers’ hearts. Funny, engaging, and downright delectable, SEVEN YEAR SWITCH is this summer’s must-read.”—Fresh Fiction
“Roll out your beach blanket for this sweet summer read about making mistakes and moving on. Struggling and sassy single mom Jill — left to raise three-year-old Anastasia when husband Seth runs away to join the Peace Corps — is just about over the devastating loss when Seth reappears seven years later ready to pick up where they left off. Jill wrestles with her still-raw anger and her precocious daughter’s heart-breaking need for her daddy back in her life. “Honey, if you don’t forgive him, it’ll eat you alive,” counsels Jill’s boss and best friend, Joni. For his part, “It wasn’t the life we planned,” Seth explains. But Anastasia helps him remember it’s the life he needs while Jill discovers letting go teaches you how to hold onto new possibilities. Cook (Must Love Dogs) creates an impossible-not-to-love cast of imperfect, funny, wistful, and wise characters.”—Publishers Weekly